We're down to the final four in York, with three former UK champions still in the mix. Paul Krishnamurty previews both semis and predicts the favourites to come through...
"I'm actually more confident about this favourite than Ronnie, because Murphy has found irresistible form this week...producing better snooker here than he did when winning the recent Champion of Champions."
It has been a UK Championship like no other in living memory, with shocks galore from the outset but yesterday, the formbook at last stood up. The favourite won every quarter-final, setting up a final four that doesn't actually look out of place with this tournament's prestigious history. Three are former UK champions whilst the other was until very recently regarded as the best player never to win a ranking title. Our plan is simple - back both favourites in a double, paying just below evens.
First, Ronnie O'Sullivan is 3/10 to beat Stephen Maguire for the seventh time in their last eight meetings. In fairness to the latter, his record against the world's best player is better than the bare numbers of their 15-4 career head-to-head. Indeed when the Scot won their first round match at this venue 13 years ago en route to the title, everyone including Ronnie was predicting 'On Fire Maguire' would soon take over at the game's peak.
In fact, it turned out to be his own peak. Though a reliable quarter and semi-finalist in big events, Maguire has fallen short of the very highest class throughout his career. A superb break-builder capable of elite standard snooker but crippled by inconsistency. His recently adopted 'Maverick' nickname is more apt.
Perhaps their early encounters left an impression that ensured Ronnie never takes Maguire lightly, because he has generally been outstanding in their matches since - most memorably a 10-2 thrashing in the 2007 final.
I doubt this will be so one-sided. Maguire warrants the utmost respect for his snooker over the past week and certainly has enough experience of these situations to not freeze. However any complacency in Ronnie's approach was surely shaken off in Thursday's nail-biter against Sonny Akani, and it was no surprise to see him resume winning ways easily yesterday.
The history between Shaun Murphy and Ryan Day is much closer, with the former leading only 6-4, by 40 frames to 35. However I'm actually more confident about this favourite than Ronnie, because Murphy has found irresistible form this week. Last night he destroyed Mark King with a lethal performance, whereas on the other table Day laboured to a dramatic midnight final frame victory against a much inferior opponent in Mark Joyce.
Early stress in this event has worked wonders for Murphy. He needed a minor miracle to survive the last-64 round against Liam Highfield but capitalised on his opponent's nerves and hasn't looked back. For my money he's producing better snooker here than he did when winning the recent Champion of Champions - where he upset the odds against Ronnie in the final. Get set for the rematch.
8 units double
Stakes: 64.5 units
Returns: 64.1 units