It’s an irony that following a long running series in which the cream has time and time again come to the top there have been so many surprise results at the Wyldecrest Parks Players Championship.
With the exception of Asian Tour event 2, all 12 qualifying tournaments were won by recognisable champions. The quarter-finals in Preston include some of them, plus some players who have seized their chance this week.
None deserves more credit than Yu Delu, who took the game to Ronnie O’Sullivan in fine style last night. Not once did Yu stop going for his shots and this confident approach worked as he completed his 4-3 victory.
It was O’Sullivan’s first defeat of the three tournaments in which he has competed in 2014 and proves he is beatable, albeit the length of match was short. Even so, this is the brand of snooker someone will have to play at the Crucible, particularly in the first round where everyone is vulnerable, to beat him.
Yu’s next opponent is Barry Hawkins, which is interesting because these two are in effect ‘lucky losers.’ Yu finished ninth in the Asian Tour order of merit and Hawkins 25th in the European Tour order of merit, so were both a place off qualifying. However, because both Stuart Bingham and Mark Selby double qualified, it freed up a place on each list.
Hawkins survived a late night battle with Ryan Day, winning 4-3 at shortly before 1am. Fortunately for him, his match with Yu is last on tonight.
Judd Trump, searching for his first ranking title since he captured the International Championship in November 2012, was superb in beating Shaun Murphy 4-0, exactly the sort of result and performance which he needed.
Trump now faces Joe Perry, who is currently enjoying the best and most consistent season of his 23-year professional career.
Something has clicked for Perry since he won the first Asian Tour title right at the start of the campaign. There’s nothing like winning in sport and Perry has done enough this season to suggest he can halt Trump’s progress towards the final in the bottom half.
In the top half, Mark Allen is going well, having made three centuries in his first two matches. He faces Gerard Greene, his Northern Ireland team mate from the 2011 World Cup, in today’s first quarter-final.
Greene recovered from 3-0 down to beat Anthony Hamilton 4-3 last night. He’s done little of note since reaching the Paul Hunter Classic final last August but while several big names have departed, he’s still going strong.
I was very impressed by how well Marco Fu cued against Mark Williams yesterday. The Hong Kong cueman, who is often maddeningly inconsistent, was strong in every department.
Like Perry, Fu has enjoyed the best season of his career and he invariably plays really well against the very best, of which John Higgins remains a part.
Higgins has come through relatively quietly but is now into a third successive quarter-final after last eight appearances in the Welsh and World Opens.
These best of sevens do increase the likelihood of shock results compared, say, to the old best of 17s the Guild Hall used to host before the UK Championship was downgraded.
But getting over the winning line – whatever the format – is still the defining issue in any tournament and will remain so as the Players Championship enters its last two days.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.