Down To Eight

Four days and eight matches into the 2014 Masters, we are now down to the last eight in London, with the quarter-finals set to get underway tomorrow. Click below for a round-up of the results from the past couple of days…

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Following an eventful first couple of days at the Alexandra Palace, events took a turn for the surreal yesterday, as a power cut delayed the start of the match between Ding Junhui and Shaun Murphy by over an hour.

Thankfully for the tournament officials, who with a longer delay would have been faced with a scheduling headache with two best of 11 matches to be played, the speedy restoration of power meant that generally the consequences of the delay were minimal.

Once the action did resume, it was Ding who made the stronger start to lead 2-0 and 4-2, but to the surprise of many, it was Murphy who fought back to win an increasingly twitchy run of four frames and book his place in the next round.

It is no secret that Shaun has struggled for results so far this season, but as he has been saying for some time now, his general form has actually been relatively strong, only strong performances from his opponents denying him further victories in recent weeks. Following his 147 at the Championship League last week however, perhaps his confidence has been given an all-important boost and he cannot fail to have been lifted further by a win against a player of Ding’s class.

On Ding’s part, he has spoken of his lack of preparation for this event, having arrived late back from China, presumably following the Christmas break and the result will be a disappointment, but he will now move on to the second half of the season with the target of Crucible success firmly in his sights.

While Ding has clearly been one of the strongest players this season, perhaps the one man whose achievements have been even greater is world number one Neil Robertson and today the Australian was able to battle his way past the dangerous Mark Allen in a warm London encounter, to keep his hopes of a season triple-crown alive.

It was a match-up that had looked to be the tie of the round from the moment that the draw had been made and it proved to be a predictably close encounter, Allen repeatedly moving one frame ahead, only to see Robertson draw level moments later.

The pattern continued until almost the end of the match, when it was Robertson who claimed the last two frames to turn the tables and progress.

Elsewhere, yesterday saw Ronnie O’Sullivan easily overcome Robert Milkins in his first match of 2014, Robert unfortunately from his point of view, not showing the sort of form that earned him a place the Masters. In truth I was not as impressed with O’Sullivan’s performance as I think some were, but from the opening frame Milkins was unable to capitalise on any errors from the reigning world champion and apply the pressure needed to trouble him.

One would expect O’Sullivan to improve further in his next match and there he will meet Ricky Walden, after the two-time ranking event winner came back from 5-2 down to edge out Barry Hawkins, gaining some measure of revenge following their match at the World Championship semi-finals last year.

It was a strange match, in which Hawkins played exceptionally well to lead 3-0, while the run of the ball was also undoubtedly in his favour for a time as he extended his lead to 5-2. Walden  though never gave up and with the tension rising and the frames becoming longer, it was he who stood up best to the pressure of the situation..

By the closing stages, although both players found themselves with chances, it was Ricky who looked the stronger, while Barry looked to be increasingly edgy, as shown by a poor shot on a re-spotted black in the ninth frame.

Again, both had opportunities in the deciding frame, but a missed cut-back black from Hawkins proved to be his last meaningful shot, as Walden did enough to get over the line.

He will have to raise his game significantly if he is to threaten O’Sullivan in the next round, but as somebody who has defeated Ronnie in a ranking event final previously, he will believe that he can do so.

The draw therefore looks like this:

Mark Selby v John Higgins

Marco Fu v Shaun Murphy

Neil Robertson v Stephen Maguire

Ricky Walden v Ronnie O’Sullivan

Who do you fancy from here?