The 2021 Masters has a new favourite, our fourth of the week, following a night that no witness will ever forget. John Higgins produced arguably the performance of his illustrious career, in one of the best matches of all-time.
As a heavy Ronnie O'Sullivan backer, I can't say it was 'fun' to watch, but it was certainly mesmerising. Winning 6-3, the Wizard of Wishaw hit three century breaks and an 88. For his part, Ronnie hit two tons and a 97. He missed three pots!
The upshot is a semi-final line-up that very few would have predicted. First defending champion Stuart Bingham takes on debutant Yan Bingtao in an intriguing, close contest.
Bingham is my last remaining outright selection at odds of 42.041/1 but I'm far from confident. He's played well enough in both rounds but the opposition wasn't anything special. Both Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Shaun Murphy had their chances.
Bingtao leads the head-to-head
This opponent has beaten him four times out of six. Significant, perhaps, given his inexperience. Yan is nothing like his young Chinese peers in terms of matchplay skills. He lacks Zhou Yuelong's breakbuilding skills or Zhao Xintong's potting, but his safety and all-round game are miles ahead.
In the previous major, Chinese players lost in both semi-finals. Li Hang followed suit at the Scottish Open. Bingtao is superior and has a much easier draw. This may well be the weekend in which the 20 year-old truly comes of age.
Higgins even money going into semis
A word of warning about Higgins to consider before backing him at evens for the title. Last night's performance came out of nowhere. He hasn't won a title for three years and prior to this Masters, had only beaten one top-16 player this season.
There is a high chance that his standard will drop significantly on last night. Great performances are hard to follow. He may be able to get away with it though against an opponent he's beaten five times from six.
The last time they met, Higgins beat Dave Gilbert 17-16 in the 2019 semi, overhauling a deficit. Gilbert was in the form of his life that week and generally much better than of late.
This is much tougher for Gilbert
Take nothing away from his gutsy win in the quarters but Kyren Wilson blew it. The match should have been over before Gilbert stepped up in the final two frames. In the previous round, Joe Perry offered no opposition.
I don't expect the upset but reckon Gilbert can keep it close. Try a 6-4 and 6-5 correct score combo. Also the enhanced 3/1 about Higgins hitting two or more centuries is cracking value after last night's heroics. It wouldn't be a bad price at any time to be frank.
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