This year’s German Masters quarter-finals would have had to go some to beat last year’s for drama and entertainment – but they have certainly thrown up a fascinating semi-final line-up.
Just 12 months ago we watched Shaun Murphy beating Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump make a 147 but lose to Mark Selby, Neil Robertson knocking the black in to foul from two snookers up and lose to Stephen Maguire, and Liang Wenbo coming through against Ryan Day in a fourth decider of a memorable evening.
Of those players Trump, Maguire and Day were again involved in the last eight, but all fell on Friday night - albeit to players that are hardly rank outsiders and have started to sniff something special themselves this weekin Martin Gould, Graeme Dott and Kyren Wilson.
The 2012 Australian Open also saw a semi-final line-up without a single top-16 player, although in fairness many failed to make the trip that year. You would have to go back to 1991 to find no top-16 seed in the last four.
The 34-year-old Gould has not yet won a ranking title, but came very close in Australia this season going down 9-8 to John Higgins, having previously lost a PTC Finals showpiece. World No20 Gould afterwards hoped that “the snooker gods” might now look kindly on his bid to land that first ranking title.
Standing in the Londoner’s path to another final is Dott, who at 38 admitted that he had begun to wonder if he would ever seriously contend again for the major honours. Dott followed up his 2006 Crucible triumph with a China Open win a year later.
But he has not won since, and a surprisingly comfortable 5-1 win over Maguire, including a clearance of 71 from 61-0 down, clinched the match and only a second semi-final place in five years, a record Dott described as “terrible” and “a wilderness” from he needs to escape.
That afternoon clash will be followed in the evening by one featuring two of the brightest young prospects snooker has to offer up in Wilson and Luca Brecel.
A shattered Wilson, after his third 5-4 win in two days and second on Friday, could be forgiven for having a head so scrambled that he asked: “Am I the only ranking event winner left in?” There was of course the small matter of former world champion Dott remaining in the draw.
The 24-year-old, whose debut ranking title came in Shanghai this season, could easily have been on the plane home in round one having trailed Rory McLeod 4-1. His efforts against Michael Holt and then from 4-2 down against Stuart Bingham’s conqueror Ryan Day were similarly impressive.
Wilson looked very tired after his win over Day, with good reason, and recovery could be the key to the outcome of his clash with Brecel, into a second ranking semi-final after matching this run at the Welsh Open last year before losing to John Higgins.
Brecel, now 20, was hailed as a child prodigy in his early teens but found life tough on tour, and there were plenty of reports emanating from Belgium that his attitude and focus dropped off despite there being so much to play for. Ability-wise he has it all going on, and if he listens and learns from now on, he will be a big danger at any event.
So with the sport desperate to see a champion emerge from mainland Europe, a dedicated Brecel’s return to form and contention is welcome. He denied Mark Joyce a first semi-final spot with a 5-4 victory.
It is very hard to pick a winner from these four, not least because of the intriguing personal ambition at stake. Wilson wants to prove he is no one-hit wonder, though there seems little danger of that.
Dott would love to win a first ranking title for nine years; Gould would cherish winning a first; and any move from Brecel this weekend could herald the emergence of a special talisman for the new snooker territories. It should be well worth a watch, with the Tempodrom and 2,000-plus fans coming alive at this stage of the tournament.
Photographs courtesy of Monique Limbos