World Champion Luca Brecel scored a superb 6-5 win over Welshman Mark Williams to book his place in the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters.
Brecel is making just his second appearance since claiming a sensational maiden world title back in May, when he defeated Mark Selby 18-15 in the Crucible final. The Belgian narrowly missed out on becoming world number one for the first time at the recent European Masters. He needed to make the semis to achieve the feat, but a 5-4 loss at the hands of Barry Hawkins in the last 16 ended his chances.
Williams’ Crucible campaign last season was also ended at the hands of Brecel after a 13-11 defeat, meaning he has now lost their last two meetings. However, Williams still leads the head-to-head record, having won all four of their other encounters on the World Snooker Tour.
It was Williams who took the early initiative this afternoon, winning a truncated opening frame on the final black. He then crafted a break of 74 to take the second and lead 2-0.
Brecel came flying back into contention with the sort of snooker which saw him climb to the top of the sport earlier this year. Breaks of 77, 92 and 107 saw him surge in front at 3-2. Williams responded immediately though and a contribution 110 helped him to regain parity at 3-3.
The next two frames were shared, before Brecel moved one from victory at 5-4. He eventually potted a long range pink in the tenth to leave Williams needing the final red with a black and the colours, trailing by 35. However, the black was safe and he was unable to turn the frame around. Brecel progresses to face Robert Milkins in the quarters.
“He is very tough to face. There was one shot which was impossible and I knew he was going to knock it in. He did and that is typical Mark Williams. He is so tough,” admitted 28-year-old Brecel.
“I’ve not been practising yet this season. I have been practising in Shanghai, I always do at tournaments. I’m going to be practising, it isn’t going to be like this forever. I played well at the European Masters, that was unexpected. I have had some long travels and exhibitions in the USA. My time was all over the place and I did think I had a chance of winning the tournament in Germany. I’m not so confidence here but as long as you keep winning then you have a chance.”
Milkins sealed his progression thanks to a thrilling 6-5 defeat of 2005 World Champion Shaun Murphy.
The encounter was a repeat of their Welsh Open final showdown from earlier this year, when Milkins prevailed 9-7 in the best moment of his career thus far. The 47-year-old enjoyed another important win over Murphy this evening.
With the score locked at 2-2, it was Murphy who made a significant move firing in runs of 95 and 134 to move 4-2 ahead. Milkins responded with three on the bounce, including a break of 120, to move just one from victory at 5-4. Although Murphy forced a decider, a decisive break of 64 from Milkins saw him make the quarters.
Australia’s Neil Robertson came from behind to behind to beat China’s home hero Ding Junhui 6-5.
The Thunder from Down Under endured a difficult campaign last season, failing to make it beyond the semi-finals of any individual event. However, this evening’s steely win will give Robertson a huge boost of confidence.
With Ding leading 5-3, 23-time ranking event winner Robertson hammered home contributions of 72, 71 and 65 to turn the match on its head and seal a significant deciding frame win. Next up he faces Fan Zhengyi in the last eight.
Fan scored a brilliant 6-3 defeat of world number three Mark Allen to earn his quarter-final berth.
Fan’s only other appearance in this prestigious tournament came back in 2018, when he was whitewashed 6-0 by Stuart Bingham. Since then the now 22-year-old’s reputation has risen greatly, having beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of the 2022 European Masters.
Northern Ireland’s Allen was Player of the Season in the previous campaign and he came out firing this afternoon, making a break of 135 on his way to a 2-0 advantage. Fan took the next two to restore parity and head into the mid-session all square and when they returned he made his move. Breaks of 88, 91 and 84 helped him four of the next five frames and an impressive victory.