Snooker needed a good day and today it had one.
The Shanghai Masters, really well attended, saw some thrilling action, close matches, exemplary sportsmanship and is left with an intriguing quarter-final line up.
The two halves are somewhat unbalanced. The top half sees four players who have never been in a ranking final. The bottom has four players who have won 18 ranking titles between them.
Kyren Wilson, at his first major venue, impressed again to see off Marco Fu, making the tournament’s highest break so far – 133 – in the process.
Wilson has done this under the old, much maligned ‘tiered’ qualifying system, which proves you can make progress whatever the format if you’re good enough, and he seems to be (as an aside, he has also impressed journalists with his easy going nature and way with words).
He now plays Michael Holt, who battled through an unbelievably tense decider to beat Martin Gould on the final pink.
Holt is much better in high pressure situations than he used to be. Gould gave it his all but eventually left the blue on and Holt did the rest. If he beats Wilson he’ll be through to the first ranking semi-final of his professional career.
Mark Davis beat John Higgins again and now plays Xiao Guodong. Davis would be favourite on paper to come through this half but that in itself brings a new pressure to bear: he must see this as a great chance to reach a major final.
Then we had the drama of the evening session in which Mark Selby did the old master of brinkmanship act to edge Robert Milkins 5-4 on the final black having trailed 4-2.
He faces Barry Hawkins, the man who knocked him out at the Crucible last season, who has moved quietly into the quarter-finals for the loss of only two frames.
Neil Robertson is hoping to do something unprecedented: win three successive ranking titles in China, having captured the China Open at the end of last season and the Wuxi Classic at the start of the current campaign.
He scrapped through to beat Mark King 5-3 and now faces Ding Junhui, who won the match of the tournament so far in beating Shaun Murphy 5-4.
This contest had it all: big breaks, good safety and bags of tension. Ding played a solid decider, at one point trapping Murphy in a fiendish snooker behind the yellow which Murphy very nearly escaped from second time around.
Shaun’s behaviour throughout this and in the moments of defeat were a credit to him and the sport. He conducted himself with great integrity, signing autographs afterwards instead of stomping off in a sulk.
The crowd loved it, they loved the match and they may be daring to hope for a Ding success at the weekend. He’s playing well enough but first has to get through a brutal half of the draw.
Off table, Ronnie O’Sullivan rowed back on his earlier comments about match-fixing in a statement released this afternoon.
Some have had a go at him for it being a PR move or done to escape disciplinary action but for me his statement is as welcome as his original tweets were unwelcome. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of contrition.
O’Sullivan’s tweets were not ‘taken out of context’ as he claims. In fact, they were taken very much in context. But I’m glad he has said what he did, even though you can be sure they won’t receive the sort of coverage the original comments did.
In general, I’m not sure it matters how long ago match fixing has happened. If there is evidence then it should be investigated, within reason – it’s a bit late to do Joe and Fred Davis for ensuring a frame of snooker lasted 15 minutes to fill the gaps between horse races on Grandstand.
Anyway, a good day and a fascinating conclusion to the tournament looms in Shanghai.