Thursday, 1 November 2012

The final four

Snooker in China has come of age this week.

The first International Championship has brought prestige to an event in this part of the world like never seen before - which bodes really well for the future.

An impressive £125,000 top prize has focused the minds of most of the top players and the reward for the fans is a truly exciting semi-final line-up.

Such has been the quality of play this week, like at all big events, you can't reach the final four without being bang on form.

That's why we've arrived at this stage with four great champions still standing, who all have a realistic shot of landing the silverware.

OnCue assesses the performances of the semi-finalists so far and why each of them could land the top prize....

Peter Ebdon

Brush the sweeping, and unfair, public opinion of Ebdon to one side and you have one of snooker's best professionals and champions. Ebdon is no longer in the top 16 but still arrives at the biggest events capable of going home with the trophy, just like he did at the China Open. He may have lost the fluidity of his game but he's as tenacious as ever and a match for any of the big boys. He's beaten Stephen Maguire and Ricky Walden this week for the loss of just one frame. Don't write him off.

Judd Trump

The man in the field carrying fear factor. Judd has been in scintillating form making big breaks quickly and knocking in all kinds of long pots. His 6-3 win against Fergal O'Brien flattered the Irishman but he followed it up with a quickfire 6-0 demolition of Aditya Mehta that showed the kind of punishing mood he's in. He was involved in one of the games of the season today as he beat Mark Allen 6-5. The standard was through the roof. It was worthy of any final. This showed he's got the nerve to back up his vast quality. He's playing confident snooker - banishing thoughts of his dramatic defeat to John Higgins in Shanghai - and he's won back the love of everyone. Victory in the semi-final would take him to number one in the world rankings for the first time. That's a great incentive. The clear dangerman in the field.

Neil Robertson

The Aussie is the man for the big events. Last season he won the Masters, reached the UK Championship semi-finals and got to the last eight at the Crucible. The International Championship is now one of the big ones and here he is again at the business end. His 14-year-old opponent Lu Haotian has a great all-round game for someone so young, but came up against the master in that department. Robertson can win matches no matter how they play out. A great potter, a fine break-builder and happy to fight it out. That's quite a package. It's a while since Neil performed in China, but he was always bound to come good. Now he's established himself in this tournament, he'll take some budging.

Shaun Murphy 

The Magician brings a touch of class to proceedings. As much as his first round 6-0 win against Andrew Higginson was comfortable, his second round victory against Ding Junhui was clinical in its conclusion. He led Ding 4-1. But after pegged back to level terms, he produced two fine breaks to cross the line. Shaun is the first to admit he enjoys the buzz of the bigger events much more, but he's been waiting quite a while to go all the way. He's been showing glimmers of his best form sporadically over the last couple of years, but the level of control he's showed this week has been the most impressive aspect of his game. He stepped up a gear when he needed to against Ding and hit four frames on the bounce when he trailed Marco Fu 3-1 in the quarter-finals. That's a sign of comfort on the table.

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