There are four competitors remaining in the Masters draw with the semi-finals scheduled for Saturday at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Contrasting quarter-final days on Thursday and Friday saw a couple of players advance from close encounters and another two by much easier means.
Each of the contenders left will know that only half of the job has been completed and two more victories are needed in order to be crowned the 2022 Masters champion.
Mark Williams (9) vs Neil Robertson (5)
All four cueists still in the Masters draw are incredibly left-handed and two of the greatest ever go head-to-head in the opening clash of the semi-finals.
Mark Williams and Neil Robertson both emerged from tough fixtures in the previous round against John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan respectively.
Robertson avenged his defeat to the Rocket in the recent World Grand Prix final while Williams edged Higgins in a thriller that was fuelled by an amazing atmosphere inside the Ally Pally.
The latter has reached the last four of the prestigious competition for the first time since 2010, and you have to go all the way back to 2003 for the most recent of his two Masters victories.
The 46 year-old maintains that he is not among the very elite these days, but his continued presence high up the rankings and tournament victories like those in the British Open last year would appear to suggest otherwise.
A third Masters crown is now a possibility, but his overall record against Robertson does not make for particularly pretty reading.
The Australian has won two-thirds of their ties in all competitions, and it was 2011 when Robertson last lost to Williams in a fixture of this length.
A Masters champion in 2012 when the event was first staged at the Alexandra Palace, Robertson also reached the final in 2013 and 2015.
Although one of the most consistent winners on the circuit and an almost constant presence among the top four in the rankings, one small gripe with his career so far is that he perhaps hasn’t garnered the silverware in the Triple Crown events that his level merits.
It would be a surprise if there were a runaway winner in this match, but Robertson has been in form either side of the New Year and appears on a mission to set that record straight.
Judd Trump (3) vs Barry Hawkins (11)
Later on the penultimate day in the English capital city, Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins will duel for the second spot in Sunday’s showdown for the £250,000 top prize.
The English pair enjoyed a much easier time of it, winning their quarter-final bouts at a canter with respective 6-1 defeats of Kyren Wilson and Mark Selby.
For the second Triple Crown event in a row, Hawkins has somewhat quietly gone about his business in orchestrating a run to the final four.
In York for the UK Championship the 42 year-old came unstuck against Zhao Xintong, and by all accounts it will be an even harder challenge on this occasion.
Trump has looked pretty sharp in all departments of his game this week and, like Robertson, will be keen on adding more Triple Crown titles to his current tally of just three.
Hawkins, of course, is the only one left in the Masters semi-finals draw who has never triumphed in a tournament of this stature and time might be running out for him on that front.
The three-time ranking event winner boasts a losing head-to-head record against Trump overall but interestingly leads their prior meetings 7-6 when their Championship League encounters are taken away.
Hawkins emerged as the winner in their last match at the Tour Championship in 2021 and the three matches before that ended in deciding-frame victories for Trump, so there’s every chance this battle could be closer than many would initially think.
Even so, Trump must be regarded as the favourite, and through his jubilant calls of “come on, baby” to the crowd upon his triumph over Wilson, the 32 year-old looks to be thriving amid the raucous atmosphere that is being generated this year.
Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport across Britain and Ireland.
Featured photo credit: WST
Great article David as always! You do feel like this could be Barry’s last real shot at winning a major, especially with his lack of success in recent years. He’s got the game though, and if he can get going he’s a match for anyone.