In close quarters

And just like a flash – 32 players became eight.

Here we are at the quarter-final stage of the World Championship in Sheffield with the dream of becoming the king of the Crucible getting that little bit closer for those still in the race.

Ten days and there are seven still to go. We’ve had angry protestors, a 147 break, inspired debutants, a bitter feud with a happy ending, big stars falling and all the usual magic of this fantastic event. And more is still to come…

Now it’s really time to get down to business as we look find out who will etch their name on this great trophy in the year 2023.
Taking a look at the final matches to be played before the venue transforms into the one-table setup we give our verdict on who will make it through to the final four.

Ronnie O’Sullivan v Luca Brecel

A box-office encounter between two players who play a brand of snooker that is very easy on the eye, although are polars apart when it comes to experience on this stage. We probably didn’t expect Ronnie still to be at the business end of the World Championship a decade ago when Brecel was making his breakthrough and we equally probably didn’t think it would take Luca quite this long to make it this far, but we are all glad it’s happening and they get to meet at the biggest event of all.

The Rocket is here contesting his 21st Crucible quarter-final, while the Belgian Bullet is in his very first. O’Sullivan was at times mesmerising and zoned in with his mind on the job throughout in his 13-2 demolition of Hossein Vafaei in the last round. The needle was exactly what he needed to really kickstart his defence of the world title and talk is now quickly turning to the prospect of him clinching a record-breaking eighth.

There are no easy matches but the departure of Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump on his half of the draw seems to have opened up his path to the final somewhat. Brecel will be looking to reverse that narrative and after coming through a deciding frame against Ricky Walden to win his first ever World Championship win, he backed it up in style to beat Mark Williams 13-11. He will be full of confidence and now seems to be enjoying himself rather than allowing the weight of the event to rest on his shoulders.

The last meeting between these two saw O’Sullivan brush Brecel aside 6-1 at this year’s Masters. This will be a great, attacking match but Brecel will need to keep unforced errors to a minimum if he is to trouble the great O’Sullivan.

Verdict: The cynic in me wonders how close this one will really go. Ronnie 13-6

Mark Allen v Jak Jones

Man-of-the-season Allen stands on the cusp of his first Crucible semi-final since 2009 – and here he is in his first visit to the last eight in five years. The Pistol cruised past Stuart Bingham 13-4 in the last round with the help of 13 breaks over 50. He seems to have recaptured his scoring form and is as a result showing good signs of producing the kind of deep run at the World Championship which has eluded him.

Standing between him and a place on the one-table setup is Welshman Jones. He is one of two debutants to reach this stage of the tournament which last happened here back in 1988. Jones is quietly becoming a giant slayer in this tournament. After beating Barry Hawkins in qualifying, he has since dispatched of Ali Carter and Neil Robertson – and has been well worth both results. This isn’t the story of a plucky debutant playing without fear and riding the crest of a wave. Instead, he looks confidently assured and has taken the venue well in his stride. His all-round game has been more than a match for everyone he’s faced and he won’t shirk at the latest top star in his way. These two have most notably met twice at the UK Championship before. It’s one win apiece in those, but Jones was the winner in the most recent in 2019.

Verdict: Allen goes in the favourite but Jones will be no pushover. There’s something in my bones that tells me it is time for the Northern Irishman to finally get back to the semi-finals. Jones will push him hard and will be able to hold his head high; he’ll be back. Allen 13-10

Mark Selby v John Higgins

Two men who are no strangers to the World Championship big stage and are familiar foes on the table.

They are both four-time Crucible winners vying here for a fifth and have met twice before in the final – winning once each. So there really is nothing between them. When it comes to style of play, they are both brilliant scorers (as you’d expect) but yet have that vital ingredient of being hard match players hence they’ve both won the big one on multiple occasions.

Selby has showed his typical steel to reach this stage of the tournament with hard-fought victories against Matt Selt and Gary Wilson peppered with big breaks along the way while Higgins put out a statement 13-2 win against Kyren Wilson with the aid of four centuries.

Selby was a big tip from the outset of this event and Higgins came in quietly simmering to form, but there’s nothing quiet about that fact now. This has all the hallmarks of being an absolute Crucible classic. Two of the all-time greats going toe to toe for a place in the last four.

Verdict: Being asked to pick a winner in this one is pure and simply cruelty. Don’t make me do it. I’ll have to stick with my outright winner, through loyalty. Selby 13-11
Anthony McGill v Si Jiahui

This match might lurk in the shadows of a couple of the others mentioned above but make no mistake this is a tasty – albeit unlikely – pairing at this stage of the event.

Si is flying. Through to the quarter-finals aged 20 makes him the youngest debutant to reach this stage since Matthew Stevens in 1998 and unsurprisingly he is winning plenty of fans along the way. He has sent two of the form men of the season – Murphy and Robert Milkins – crashing out so far and he might not be done yet. He’s been a revelation, has turned up with a top-class attitude of going for his shots and making the most of every moment. His run has also seen him into the top 64 of the world rankings while still in his first season of a two-year professional tour card. He has announced himself as a potential star of the future.

McGill was ruthless in knocking out Trump and survived a fightback against Jack Lisowski. He comes into this one with a calmer, more experienced approach than his youthful opponent. He has his eyes on a second Crucible semi-final and has the game to go all the way. It is little surprise that Si leads the head-to-head record 3-0 but that goes only to confirm what we know about McGill genuinely saving his best for the World Championship. He sets off as the rightful favourite.

Verdict: The
end of a fairy-tale run for Si. McGill 13-8
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