The Masters draw has been whittled down from 16 to eight with the quarter-finals set to take place on Thursday and Friday at the Alexandra Palace.
Wednesday’s remaining first-round encounters transformed what had been a relatively slow opening to the tournament, as Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson emerged in back-to-back 6-5 thrillers in London.
The English pair will renew their own rivalry in the last eight, but all four matches left in the Masters draw could easily be worthy finals.
Mark Williams (9) vs John Higgins (8)
Mark Williams and John Higgins proved that the proposed changing of the guard may be a touch premature with respective victories over Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong.
The legendary pair, boasting 16 Triple Crown titles between them, can still produce snooker at the very highest level despite approaching their fourth decades on the Main Tour.
Professionals since 1992, Williams and Higgins first encountered each other at the 1994 Thailand Open in which the Welshman prevailed in a decider.
Fast forward to their most recent meeting of 63 in total, and it was Higgins who got the better of a 4-3 scoreline at the 2021 Northern Ireland Open.
For all intents and purposes this clash has the makings to be just as close as those were, and it’s difficult to plump for a winner either way.
Higgins possesses the stronger record from their head-to-head overall, but Williams arguably looked the sharper from their initial duels against the young Chinese opposition – Yan, of course, representing the reigning champion.
Neil Robertson (5) vs Ronnie O’Sullivan (4)
While the above fixture may stand out as the tie of the round, the one that precedes it on Thursday isn’t too shabby either.
A repeat of the World Grand Prix final from just before Christmas in Coventry, Neil Robertson will have an immediate opportunity to avenge his defeat to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The latter received plenty of plaudits for his dominant display against Jack Lisowski in round one, but the truth was that his opponent offered a tame challenge and O’Sullivan will likely be put under more serious pressure during this outing.
Robertson is one of the most feared scorers in the game so when he gets on a roll he can be hard to stop, but he equally has a knack of muddying up his chances in important matches by getting inside his own head.
That said, O’Sullivan and Robertson encounters down through the years have generally been free-flowing affairs with sizable contributions in abundance.
There’s no reason to think that this battle will be any different, and it is certainly a potentially entertaining tit-for-tat that’s not to be missed.
Judd Trump (3) vs Kyren Wilson (6)
A showdown between the only two players who were taken the distance in the first round, Judd Trump and Kyren Wilson renew their rivalry in the quarter-finals of the Masters draw.
Generally contested with respect of one another, there have been a few times in the past where Trump and Wilson have thrown disparaging comments each other’s way.
Wilson is desperate to be considered a member of the very elite, but although he has been able to beat the highest-ranked players on a regular basis, the Kettering cueist has so far been unable to translate that into silverware on the bigger stages.
The 30 year-old shares a relatively even head-to-head record with Trump and beat his countryman in a nondescript Championship League affair last week.
But since losing to Wilson in the 2020 World Championship, a result that prolonged the Curse of the Crucible, Trump has generally enjoyed the upper hand.
Their last meaningful encounter was in November’s Champion of Champions when Trump thrashed Wilson with a 6-0 bagel en route to securing the title in Bolton.
Barry Hawkins (11) vs Mark Selby (2)
Such are the story lines that are being generated by the other three quarter-final matches, the remaining tie between Mark Selby and Barry Hawkins may go somewhat under the radar.
The world champion and world number one will be expected to progress to the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 2014, but Hawkins is obviously no pushover.
Indeed, an interesting head-to-head record reads 17 victories apiece, albeit Selby leads when their significant number of matches from the Championship League are taken away.
They crossed paths at the same stage of the 2017 Masters and it was Hawkins who emerged on top that day, so the Hawk has pleasant memories of facing his close pal in the English capital.
It hasn’t been a particularly good season for the Jester, but he so often seems to pull performances out of the bag in the major tournaments and it would be somewhat of an upset for him to lose here.
Live coverage of all four matches from the Masters quarter-finals draw will be on the BBC and Eurosport across Britain and Ireland.
Featured photo credit: WST
I’d actually pick Robertson v O’Sullivan as tie of the round. Those two along with Selby and Trump have been the best four players of recent years.
Williams looked impressive in round one but would probably go for Higgins as he’s been playing so well this season. While the evening slot could be an issue for the Welshman if he’s still feeling the impact of long covid.