The Northern Ireland Open schedule is down to the final three days and the last eight contenders for the title in Belfast.
The top half of the draw is loaded with last year’s winner and a trio of former world champions, while the other side seems a bit more open.
All four quarter-finals will take place on Friday at the Waterfront Hall as the players move to within striking distance of the £80,000 top prize.
Mark Allen vs Mark Williams (7pm)
Mark Allen produced one the performances of his career to capture the Alex Higgins Trophy on home soil a year ago.
The Pistol hasn’t quite been firing as strongly on this occasion but has had enough to get through the early rounds and into the latter part of the competition again.
His Northern Ireland Open reign continued on Thursday with a 4-0 victory over Xiao Guodong, after which he complained about the state of the playing conditions.
Mark Williams will pose a more formidable threat to his aspirations of a repeat triumph in the Home Nations series tournament.
Williams defied consecutive centuries from opponent Stephen Maguire to prevail in a high-scoring affair after all seven frames were needed.
The Welshman actually possesses an inferior head-to-head record against Allen – winning only seven of their 20 encounters with one another in all competitions.
Neil Robertson vs Mark Selby (est. 2pm)
As if the battle of the Marks wasn’t a bruising enough prospect, the second clash from the top half of the draw grants a heavyweight bout between Mark Selby and Neil Robertson.
There has been some chatter this week around Robertson’s tilt at becoming the first player to win all four Home Nations titles.
The Australian has previous successes in the Scottish, Welsh, and English Opens since the series began back in 2016.
But success for Selby this week would effectively mean the same thing, as he too has won all three of the other tournaments.
His triumph in the Welsh Open may have come all the way back in 2008 before the Home Nations concept began, but it’s essentially the same event.
Anyway, to do that Selby will have to improve his level as he has not produced his A-game so far, whereas Robertson has scored pretty heavily.
The pair’s head-to-head couldn’t be any closer, with 19 wins apiece and a draw from their 39 prior meetings.
David Gilbert vs Zhou Yuelong (12pm)
Wins for David Gilbert and Zhou Yuelong in the last 16 mean they will feature in the last eight of a ranking event for the first time in 2022.
It has been a disappointing spell for both players, who have tailed off in recent times with their respective threats of gaining membership to the top 16.
Triumphing this week would change all that, particularly for Gilbert who would return to the elite bracket if he manages to secure a second career ranking title.
Gilbert beat Tom Ford in a high-scoring last round that concluded with a tense decider, while Zhou enjoyed a much easier time of it following a whitewash defeat of Robert Milkins.
The duo has crossed paths on only three other occasions with Gilbert winning two of those, although Zhou won their most recent affair in 2021.
Lyu Haotian vs Anthony McGill (7pm)
The remaining tie in the Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals schedule is a somewhat unexpected duel between Lyu Haotian and Anthony McGill.
The latter has taken full advantage of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s surprise exit in the same section of the draw.
McGill thrashed Tian Pengfei in the last 16, but his standout performance came a round earlier when he fought back superbly from the brink of defeat to deny Yan Bingtao with a barrage of big breaks.
The Scot is in a similar situation to Gilbert in terms of a potential rise back into the top 16 in the world rankings.
Against Lyu, McGill faces a player who is clearly in form this term, with the Chinese competitor backing up his quarter-final appearance at the British Open with another run here.
Lyu wasted little time in getting past Luca Brecel but will have to keep his foot on the gas against McGill, who he has only beaten once in the Shoot Out single-frame format.
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Featured photo credit: WST