Five days down at the inaugural Coral Northern Ireland Open and we now know the line-up for the semi-finals following an eventful week at the Titanic Exhibition Centre in Belfast.
Saturday’s first best of 11 frames semi-final will be contested between Kyren Wilson and Mark King, after the pair both came through close matches today.
It has been a particularly eventful couple of days for Wilson, who yesterday saw Ronnie O’Sullivan come back from 3-0 down with three century breaks to force a decider, before Wilson eventually won their last 16 showdown with a run of 70. Today he was up against another multiple world champion in the form of Welshman Mark Williams and again was able to come through a high-quality match in a final frame.
Already a ranking event finalist earlier this season when he lost out to Anthony McGill in India, Wilson has given his chances of qualifying for this season’s Masters a significant boost and is set to climb to a career-high ranking of at least 13th following the conclusion of this event.
Hoping to stop him in his tracks will be 42-year-old Mark King, who has made it through to the last four of a full-ranking event for the first time since the 2011 Shanghai Masters. Notable scalps so far for the two-time ranking event finalist include Liang Wenbo, who can now no longer claim this season’s £1,000,000 bonus for winning all four Home Nations series events, while this evening King came through a testing match against Iran’s Hossein Vafaei Ayouri.
Appearing in his first ranking event quarter-final (he had never progressed beyond the last 32 of an event), Iran’s only professional led 2-1 and 3-2, but it was the experienced King who won the last three frames to book his place in the semi-finals. Guaranteed to climb back up into the top 32, he will now be looking to reach only his third career ranking final and first since the 2004 Irish Masters.
Hawkins, Hamilton through
In the other half of the draw meanwhile, Barry Hawkins began the day with a 5-2 victory against Michael White to equal his semi-final result at the Coral English Open last month in Manchester. A player who has dropped down the rankings in recent months following the removal of prize money from his ranking after his successful 2014, he has given his prospects of earning a return to the Masters in January a significant boost.
His last ranking event victory came at the 2014 Players Championship but as the highest ranked player (14) remaining in the tournament and having dropped just three frames during the week so far, he will fancy his chances of lifting his third ranking title on Sunday evening.
Standing in his way next will be world number 76 Anthony Hamilton, who this evening ended the run of local hero Mark Allen with a 5-2 win to reach his first semi-final in just shy of eight years.
Having already seen his fair share of drama this week, with deciding frame wins against Ken Doherty and Yan Bingtao, as well as an excellent victory against Anthony McGill, the former world number 10 opened with a break of 96 this evening and rarely looked back.
He spoke afterwards of how much the result means to him, not just emotionally but also financially and it is perhaps little wonder as already he has earned more prize money this season than during the previous two full seasons combined. Barely 12 months ago he was struggling badly with his game following well-documented problems arising from a neck injury, but since then his form has improved markedly and he is already now up to 67th on the latest provisional ranking list, having started the season on £0.
Often referred to as the best player ever not to have won a ranking event, could this week see him break that duck?
The early headlines
While the final four are now set, the tournament also saw drama in the early rounds, not least with a maximum break by the in-form John Higgins during the final frame of his victory against Sam Craigie. Though the Scot would later fall to old rival Mark Williams in the last 16, he remains in line to claim the £12,000 maximum prize, provided that it is not equalled during the remainder of the tournament.
Another to fall at the last 16 stage as already mentioned above was Yan Bingtao, but nevertheless his run represents the fourth time that the 16-year-old has made it so far at a ranking event already during his maiden season, no mean feat given the strength in depth on tour these days.
Also impressing was Scott Donaldson, who equalled his career-best run of the last 16 before losing to Ayouri, while Sanderson Lam made it to the last 32 for only the second time and Ireland’s Josh Boileau did so for his first.
The action continues from 1pm on Saturday, with Mark King v Kyren Wilson first up live on British Eurosport.