May 2

And then there were four…

The World Championship is renowned for producing drama and this year has certainly been no exception.

You only have to take one look at the four semi-finalists ready to do battle on the Crucible one-table setup to see this.

The crescendo of the quarter-finals proved to be a wonderful day of snooker and produced plenty of surprise as we lost the two runaway tournament favourites Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump leaving us wondering who will be making Crucible history this coming weekend.

Kyren Wilson, Stuart Bingham, Dave Gilbert and Jak Jones are our four remaining players in order of fancy from the bookmakers and each have a tale to tell on their journey so far.

While there is no disputing the quality each of these players possess, not one of them came into this tournament ranked among the top 16 in the one-year prize money list and so proves again that the World Championship so often sits separate to the rest of the season and the form guide can mean very little.

The narrative which chimes now is that a massive opportunity is on offer for all these players – a chance to be crowned champion of the world on a visit to Sheffield when perhaps expectations were far from their peak.

But they’ll fancy the job now and with this comes a different pressure.

The fabulous Crucible venue has now been transformed and is set up with a single table occupying the auditorium and eyes on the action.

The semi-finals are each played over four sessions, three days and it is a race to 17 frames to claim a spot in the final. Who can get the job done from here?

Experience calling

If we start anywhere, we surely must start with Jones who arguably produced one of the biggest shocks in World Championship quarter-final history to beat Trump – and he did it quite comfortably in the end.

Coming into the final session of the match all square, he secured the five frames he needed to win 13-9 and take full advantage of Judd who was well below par.

He looked icy cool as he got over the line and becomes only the seventh Welshmen in history to reach this stage of the Crucible. He is taking it all in his stride and is admirably going about his business.

He isn’t afraid to get stuck into a proper old-school battle and isn’t fazed by who is in the opposite chair. People have been quick to point out that his opponent’s in this year’s championship haven’t produced their best but when it consistently happens, you have to give the credit all to him. He has found a way to stifle his opponents and stop them from gaining momentum. This isn’t a coincidence and he’ll be ready to get stuck in all over again.

In his way next is Bingham who is the only player left in the draw to have got his hands on the trophy before and in fact to win any of snooker’s Triple Crown events.

Of course, he has the experience this brings to count on and the confidence he can take from a superb performance to beat O’Sullivan and stop him in his pursuit of a record-breaking eighth world title.

We all know what a class player Stuart is but what seems most striking this year is that he’s really enjoying it out there. He’s playing with a smile on his face, interacting with the crowd and seems to be relishing a timely return to form.

Nine years on from his famous triumph, all eyes are on whether he can become a multiple winner here and join an even more select bunch of the sport’s greats.

Unfinished business

In the other semi-final clash, Wilson sets off as favourite fresh from beating four-time world champion John Higgins, who has historically proved a nemesis for him in years gone by at the Crucible.

Kyren has probably consistently played the best snooker of the tournament as a whole and also has the strongest recent Crucible record to support his chances.

He was a finalist four years ago and has reached another two semi-finals in his previous six visits. Long been tipped as a future world champion, this feels like a huge opportunity to fulfil his dream.

In his way first to begin with is Gilbert who returns to the one-table setup five years on from his fairytale run where he narrowly missed out on a place in the final. Like Kyren, he’s playing great snooker and has made six centuries so far in the tournament.

He has perhaps ridden his luck more than the others having come back from 9-6 down against Luca Brecel in the first round. Since then, he’s been full steam ahead and producing the kind of snooker we associate with him when he’s at his best; open and free flowing.

With momentum on his side, he often looks a tough player to stop and seems to have found rhythm in his game which could prove crucial.
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