We’ve lost one table and two of the three pre-tournament favourites, but we are left with the four semi-finalists who are vying it out for a £375,000 payday and the title of 2017 World Snooker Champion.
Many were hoping for a dream final between the dynamic duo of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump. However, the way the early rounds have transpired, neither are invited to the party in Sheffield this coming Bank Holiday Weekend.
Defending champion and World Number 1 Mark Selby has put in some very ‘Selbyesque’ performances during his opening round wins over qualifiers Fergal O’Brien and Xiao Guodong, yet he still crossed the line with plenty of change to spare.
It was his display in a quarter-Final 13-3 destruction of 8th seed Marco Fu that really got people sitting up in their seats. 10 breaks of over 50, including efforts of 132, 138 and a remarkably constructed 143 allowed him an early finish and Wednesday night off.
His semi-Final opponent will be Ding Junhui, in what is a repeat of last year’s final.
Ding’s doubters have temporarily been silenced. It was the first time since 2006 that he had got the better of Ronnie O’Sullivan in a major ranking setting, and this is now the third time the 30-year-old has reached this stage of the championship. He really is starting to produce his best snooker on the sport’s toughest terrain, and under pressure, which he proved in winning the last couple of frames against countryman and friend Liang Wenbo in the Last 16.
Since their clash 12 months ago, Selby and Ding have completed a trilogy of major finals. Last September in front of his own fans, the talented Asian cueist was left in tears of joy after his win in the final of the Shanghai Masters. Just a few weeks later though, Selby extracted ultimate revenge with a thumping and quite brilliant 10-1 annihilation of him in the International Championship – also in China.
Incredibly, in major events, the career head-to-head stats leave the pair locked up at 12-12, although the Englishman has taken four of the last five encounters.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker1) April 26, 2017
I edged with Selby in my pre-event piece purely because of the staggering campaign he has had; he also bagged the Paul Hunter Classic last summer, the UK Championship just before Christmas and the last stop before Sheffield, the China Open.
I’ll stick with Selby, although the plus handicap on Ding and overs on the total frames market may be worth a look.
The bottom half of the draw has been less featured than the top, although it opened right up after the departure of Trump. It brings together four times former champion John Higgins and the consistent Barry Hawkins, who has now made this stage four of the last 5five years – a very impressive feat.
Higgins actually entered the championship in ordinary form having not made a single major Quarter-Final since the turn of the year. His dip in results had coincided with a change of cue, a bemusing change seeing as he claimed back-to-back honours at the lucrative China Championship and Champion of Champions last November.
All of Higgins’ victories here have come at the expense of major ranking event winners, so he has been put through his paces for sure. This is the first time Higgins will feature at the one-table set up since 2011, the last of his four World Titles.
Hawkins continues to go under the radar at a venue where he was the runner-up to O’Sullivan in 2013.
One of the form players of the campaign, he won the World Grand Prix in February and has banked over £350,000 courtesy of his consistency. Just like his opponent in the last four, all his victories so far have had a comfortable finale.
In career meetings, if you take out the short race, obscure Championship League matches, the pair have only faced each other seven times – a surprisingly low amount for two experienced professionals. Higgins leads 5-2, but only one of those ties was in a match longer than the best of seven frames, when John won 10-6 here in 2010 during the First Round.
Hawkins is a different animal now, though; a proven winner on the circuit, he was mentioned as a serious contender before the championship began. I’m not sure the stats mean one iota on this occasion.
The match should go deep, but I do fancy the predator that is Higgins to get the job done.
We again spoke with Betfred’s snooker man Paul Dunning – who picked out Barry Hawkins in our pre-tournament preview – to get his views on the last four.
“After the level of his performance against Marco Fu, Mark Selby is undoubtedly the man to beat but has he peaked too early? There are still five days to go in the Betfred World Championship and he may well need to repeat close to that form to overcome Ding who was equally impressive knocking out the Rocket.
“Selby also needs to overcome the “China Open Curse” which has made his recent schedule busier than normal – does he have enough left in the tank?
“Although Barry Hawkins was my pre-tournament tip and I am on personally at 25/1, he seriously needs to up his game from what he has shown so far to compete with a resurgent John Higgins.
“All the money is for Selby & Higgins, so from a Betfred perspective it’s fingers crossed we can get one of them turned over!”