The 2023 World Snooker Championship has reached its semi-finals stage, with just four players left vying for the coveted title at the Crucible Theatre.
One might be forgiven for thinking that the £500,000 champion’s cheque is now within sight, but another 35 frames need to be won in order to capture the main prize.
Only one of the remaining contenders understands what it takes to go all the way to glory in Sheffield, with the other three hoping to embark on a maiden run to the final.
Let’s take a look at both fixtures in the semi-finals of this year’s World Snooker Championship.
Luca Brecel (9) vs Si Jiahui
This kind of encounter at the business end of the sport’s flagship event couldn’t have come at a much better time for the sport.
Luca Brecel, still just 28, has been hyped as a future world champion since his early teenage years.
The Belgian Bullet produced a coming-of-age performance to stun an out-of-sorts Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals, defeating the reigning champion 13-10 having begun the third session four frames adrift.
Si Jiahui’s 13-12 victory over Anthony McGill was anything but composed, but the Chinese youngster conjured enough to get the job done following a gruelling battle.
At only 20 years of age, Si is the youngest Crucible semi-finalist since O’Sullivan reached the same hurdle for the first time in 1996.
The former WSF Amateur Championship winner is also the first debutant to feature in the penultimate round of the competition since Andy Hicks managed the feat in 1995.
Si, who at times looked exhausted against McGill, has already won 66 frames in this year’s World Championship having previously emerged from three qualifying rounds to even get to the venue stages.
Brecel also admitted after his dismantling of the Rocket to feeling the effects of tiredness, but both players will delve into their physical and mental reserves in an attempt to reach the final.
Two attack-minded players, it promises to be an exciting showdown that could act as a welcome positive advert for the sport globally.
Si’s presence in the last four is a boost for Chinese snooker during a time when a hearing is taking place into ten players from the country who face allegations of match-fixing.
Brecel, meanwhile, is a flagbearer not only for his own country Belgium but also for the whole of mainland Europe – a region that has generated fantastic support for the sport without much in return from the World Snooker Tour in the form of new tournaments being staged there.
They have never crossed paths before competitively, indicative of Si’s short tenure on the circuit having only started his second stint as a professional at the start of this season.
In terms of experience then, Brecel will obviously have the upper hand as a three-time ranking event winner and a member of the top 16.
If he maintains the same level of calmness and composure as has been his trademark during this tournament, it’ll make him even tougher to beat.
Prediction: Luca Brecel 17-12 Si Jiahui
Thursday, April 27th – 1pm
Friday, April 28th – 10am and 7pm
Saturday, April 29th – 2:30pm
Mark Allen (3) vs Mark Selby (2)
If the semi-final in the top half of the draw comprises a couple of young aspiring champions of the sport, the bottom-half affair is all about experience.
Mark Selby is the only protagonist left who possesses the knowledge of regularly going deep in Sheffield.
Should the Leicester man triumph in this year’s World Championship, he will have won five out of the last ten editions of the prestigious competition.
His opponent Mark Allen may not boast that level of know-how at the Crucible Theatre – indeed, it continues to be a remarkable statistic that this is just his second appearance in the World Snooker Championship semi-finals.
However, the Pistol is also a proven winner on the main tour, with the big one in Sheffield one of the only notable titles missing from his CV.
Allen is a three-time ranking event winner this season, and a victory over Selby would see the Northern Irishman end the 2022/23 campaign as snooker’s newest world number one.
It would complete a remarkable transformation for a player who, midway through last season, threatened an early retirement amid financial difficulties away from the baize.
Neither of the Marks have produced their strongest standards to get this far but have equally done enough to beat the opposition put in front of them.
The pair’s head-to-head would suggest that we could be in for a classic encounter, with 11 wins apiece from their 22 prior meetings.
One of those was a World Championship affair, two years ago at the last-16 stage when Selby won 13-7 en route to securing his fourth and most recent world title.
There was a spell years ago when it seemed as though Selby and Allen couldn’t be involved in a match together that didn’t go the distance.
It wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see their latest contest go close as well, but Selby’s overall form in Sheffield would naturally dictate that he’s the one more likely to advance.
The 39 year-old invariably performs strongly at the Crucible, and he is known for his ability to move through the gears the longer he survives in a major tournament.
With O’Sullivan gone from the opposite side of the draw, Selby has been upgraded to the new tournament favourite, and with reason.
Prediction: Mark Selby 17-14 Mark Allen
Thursday, April 27th – 7pm
Friday, April 28th – 2:30pm
Saturday, April 29th – 10am and 7pm
For the full World Snooker Championship draw, results, live scores, and session times, click here.
Featured photo credit: WST