Apr 30

In close quarters

Ten days down and 24 players sent home.

It’s quarter-final time at the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield and while there have been stories galore until this point of the tournament, there are plenty more still to come.

Ahead of the next round, our snooker reporter Gary Moss gives his verdict on the final round of matches before the arena transforms to the single-table setup.

Dave Gilbert v Stephen Maguire

There was a feeling at the start of the tournament that this quarter of the draw could be the most open and so it has proved.
We are left with two qualifiers each with the opportunity to equal their best-ever run at Crucible after we’ve lost the defending world champion Luca Brecel, the 2005 winner Shaun Murphy and one of the form men of the season in Ali Carter.

There’s little between these two players on paper and that’s been the same in this tournament really despite both of them arriving in Sheffield off the back of disappointing seasons. Gilbert produced a late charge to knock out Brecel on the opening day before being completely dominant in dispatching Robert Milkins in the last round. Maguire in spells has managed to rekindle some of his bullying best snooker and seems to have enjoyed the battles in both his matches.

The last meeting between these two was also their most important with Gilbert beating Maguire 6-2 in the quarter-finals of the Masters four years ago. These are two players who when they flow and play their natural attacking game are both excellent to watch. There’s a lot at stake in this one as they battle to reach an unlikely place at the one-table setup in this year’s Championship so let’s hope they can both produce their best and arrive on the table with confidence rather than letting the enormity of the prize on offer take over.

Expect this one to go close and Maguire to have the greater firepower to get it won. 13-11

Kyren Wilson v John Higgins

After one of the Crucible’s modern-day classics, it is John Higgins who will face Kyren Wilson in this match in what is a re-run of a very one-sided last 16 clash a year ago.

The four-time champion Higgins proved why he’s one of the greatest players under pressure the sport has ever seen, beating Mark Allen 13-12 on the final black courtesy of a majestic clearance after the Northern Irishman had missed match ball. It was the kind of drama that only the Crucible can produce and also retained Higgins’ place in the top 16.

A year ago, Higgins beat Wilson 13-2 when they met in Sheffield but no one is expecting such a procession this time. Kyren is without doubt saving his best until last this season. He has looked clinical and is scoring very well so far in here having only dropped seven frames in his passage to the last eight.

Despite this, he continues to go under the radar which you suspect will suit him just fine. Without any doubt, this match will be his biggest test of the Championship so far and will be the acid test for where his game really is at.

You really never can write Higgins off but has he got another huge win in him? Kyren will be the fresher of the two players and will prevail 13-9.

Judd Trump v Jak Jones

It goes without saying that there is an almighty gulf between these two players when it comes to their experience of playing in huge matches and fighting for snooker’s biggest prizes. This will be reflected in the odds going into this contest and it’s hard to disagree.

Let’s not completely write Jones off though. He has done incredibly well to reach back-to-back Crucible quarter-finals and is proving that this is the venue where he seems primed to really deliver. While he came in for a little criticism for the manner of his performance in beating Si Jiahui, you cannot ignore that he has a knack of stifling his opponents and generally being difficult to play against. This could be something we see in this match and we shouldn’t expect him to make it easy for Judd; he’ll be sure to keep easy chances to a minimum.

Trump though looks like a man on a mission when it comes to his focus and concentration this year. He hasn’t needed his best game to comfortably beat Hossein Vafaei and Tom Ford so far in this event and what you can see is that he is benefitting from that bit of aura he has at the table, which comes from his consistency of winning big titles. He’s settled into the tournament now and has a great confidence in his ability which will make him incredibly difficult to stop.

: It’s hard to make a case for anything but a Trump win. It might take until the second session for him to break away, but he will have too much for Jones. 13-7

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Stuart Bingham

History man O’Sullivan could be about to embark on the biggest week of his snooker life with a record-breaking eighth world crown on the line in his illustrious career – and yet seems to be taking it coolly in his stride.

It’s perhaps scary that he’s not reached anywhere near his best in comfortably beating Welshmen Jackson Page and Ryan Day en route to this his 22nd World Championship quarter-final appearance. He has plenty of gears still to go through and will probably need to up his game to beat Stuart Bingham in this one.

Bingham has played superbly to beat Gary Wilson and Jack Lisowski so far and will be ready to give this one a real go. Ballrun famously beat Ronnie in the same round when he won the title in 2015 and so may feel there is a bit of an omen. But make no mistake, O’Sullicvan has risen to almost every big challenge in front of him this season.

There’s a feeling of destiny about Ronnie and an eighth world title. He’ll step it up again and win this one 13-9.

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