The FA Cup-style random draw used at the British Open has delivered an unexpected quarter-final line-up in Milton Keynes – with the two big guns in Mark Selby and Mark Allen paired together, and six lesser lights able to seriously contemplate a place in the final ahead of Friday’s matches.
World No3 and four-time world champion Selby and a newly slimmed-down Allen, who lost four and a half stones in weight over the summer and edged, were the stars of the last 16 as Allen ended Judd Trump’s chances of regaining the world No1 spot - but others have quietly and largely under the radar been having a very good week at the Marshall Arena.
Selby showed more evidence of a spectacular return to form with a brilliant fourth career 147 maximum break on Thursday night.
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Four-time world champion Selby produced the moment of magic in the first frame of a 4-1 victory over Jack Lisowski that earned him a quarter-final place.
World No3 Selby, 39, took time out of the game earlier this year after honestly and publicly speaking about mental health issues he was dealing with.
And though he continues to take medication and receive therapy, the fine play and sunnier outlook shown in last weekend’s mixed doubles event has continued in Milton Keynes.
But the highlight of the evening was Selby’s first 147 for almost four years, featuring an incredible treble on the fourth-last red to keep the break going after it looked over.
Selby, who later made a 117 for good measure, got a standing ovation for his feat. He said: “It is great to make a 147 live on TV.
“The treble I played on the red to keep it going was probably a one in 50 chance. And what also pleased me was you see lots of 147s where the players lose the next frame or the match.
“But I kept up the pressure and my standard. I have been practising a lot harder in recent weeks and it seems to be showing on the match table.”
After grabbing the early initiative in such spectacular fashion Selby then saw Lisowski claw back a deficit in frame two to force a re-spotted black.
But it was the world No3 that held his nerve on the extra ball to take the frame-clinching seven points and move 2-0 up.
Lisowski, 31, still looking for a first title after six losing career finals, built up a lead in frame three but Selby roared back to nick it.
‘Jackpot’ kept himself in it with a superb run of 119 – but Selby closed out the contest with another century.
The draw for the quarter-finals took place after Selby’s win, and almost inevitably and to the delight of the remaining six players he and the winner of the Trump v Allen last-16 tie were paired together.
Allen then edged out Trump with a superb 4-3 win on the same table, as the former Masters champion set up another mouth-watering clash against Selby.
Trump would have leapfrogged Ronnie O’Sullivan at the summit had he lifted the trophy on Sunday. But Antrim’s Allen held his nerve superbly in a tense decider to reach the quarter-finals. Allen is chasing a seventh ranking title, and the first for a year since he won his home tournament in Belfast.
Allen said: "I always enjoy matches against the very best and there is no doubt that Judd is one of those. He tests every part of your game.
"You see where you are really at. It should have been plainer sailing, as I started well to go 2-0 up and then broke down on 53 in the next. If I go 3-0 up I probably cruise to victory.
"But in a way I am proud of that, because that is a match that might have got away from me in the past. I dug in well in the decider.
"I had seen the draw before I went out to play, so that was great news! It just gets easier and easier. I'd have liked to avoid Mark and maybe play him in the final - but I'll just play my best and hope to get through."
Elsewhere opportunity knocks for the other six left in the draw, who can reasonably hope for at least a place in the final. Merseyside Robbie Williams, the world No61, beat Steven Hallworth 4-3 and will now play China’s Lyu Haotian, who was an impressive 4-1 winner over Matthew Stevens.
Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham is looking dangerous, and a 4-0 whitewash win over Jordan Brown earned him a quarter-final tie against Jamie Jones, who is playing really well again after his ban from the sport, and on Thursday beat Ben Woollaston 4-2.
And Ryan Day, after overcoming Graeme Dott 4-2, will play China’s Yuan Sijun who came through 4-3 in an epic battle with veteran Anthony Hamilton.
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