World Open: Quarter-Final Preview
David Gilbert produced a terrific display to beat John Higgins 5-2 and reach the quarter-finals of the World Open in China. It marked the first time the Englishman had beaten Higgins in a tournament carrying ranking points after four previous failed attempts against the world number two.
With breaks of 75, 82, and an excellent 132 to wrap up the success against the recent Indian Open champion, Gilbert also gained a modicum of overdue revenge for his defeat to the Scotsman in the final of the International Championship almost two years ago.
That still represents Gilbert’s only run to the last two of a big competition but the 36 year-old is now only a few wins away from joining the elite band of ranking event winners.
Gilbert will face Mark Allen for a semi-final berth after the Northern Irishman fought back brilliantly from 4-2 down to deny Neil Robertson in a decider.
Both Allen and Robertson have struggled somewhat on the Main Tour over the course of the last year or so, and victory for either would have been credited as a significant step in the right direction.
It looked nailed on that the Australian was going to ease into the last eight when he established a two-frame cushion late on, but Allen found his scoring shoes to reel off timely successive breaks of 71, 105, and 75 to clinch a morale boosting triumph.
Allen has faced Gilbert on four previous occasions and the two-time World Open champion has come out on top in three of those contests.
Gilbert’s sole success, perhaps importantly, happened to come in the last 16 of last week’s ranking event in Visakhapatnam.
Meanwhile, Mark Williams maintained his current run of impressive form as he comfortably saw off the challenge of Jimmy Robertson, 5-1.
Williams has already collected silverware in September after tasting glory in the Six Red World Championship, the Welshman’s first trophy of note in over two years.
This time last year, Ding Junhui followed up his six reds triumph in Bangkok by capturing the next ranking tournament on the calendar in Shanghai, and Williams will be keen to repeat the trick in 2017.
The two-time world champion has often downgraded his chances of bagging another ranking title but he must surely be quietly confident that he can now go all the way again.
Williams will meet Kyren Wilson in the quarter-final after the World Games gold medallist held off a spirited fight back from Thepchaiya Un-Nooh to prevail 5-3 against the Thai.
The pair has met only a few times in the past, with two of those clashes coming in the short format Championship League.
Wilson, in fact, has won their only meaningful fixture, which came at this stage of the Northern Ireland Open towards the end of 2016 in Belfast.
In the top half of the draw, Ding extended his run on home turf with a routine 5-1 defeat of Joe Perry, setting up a tie against fellow Chinese competitor Li Hang.
Ding has generally looked focused this week as he has coasted through each round bar a couple of late match wobbles.
Indeed, the 12-time ranking event champion is arguably the clear favourite to emerge victorious on Sunday, especially with favourites Mark Selby and Higgins gone by the wayside.
In Li, Ding faces his third Chinese opponent of the tournament and one in terrific form, with the 26 year-old adding to his stellar showing at the China Championship in August when he reached the last four.
Li overcame Peter Ebdon 5-3 in a typically gruelling affair with the former world champion, and will meet his compatriot for the first time over the best of nine frames.
The pair has met on four previous occasions in shorter formats, with Ding boasting a three and one head-to-head record.
Finally, Luca Brecel and Anthony McGill will duel in a battle of the up-and-coming young stars of the game.
Both cueists are already in form this season with McGill reaching last week’s Indian Open final and Brecel garnering a maiden ranking event crown in Guangzhou last month.
Interestingly, McGill has never managed a win against the Belgian in three prior attempts, although their last encounter came almost two years ago in the last 64 of the UK Championship in York.
Both are beginning to show signs of a rise into the higher echelons of the sport, so it’ll be intriguing to see who can come out on top and reach the one table set-up this weekend in Yushan.