With three of the six previous matches decided in the final frame and a raft of high quality snooker throughout the First Round, The Masters has undoubtedly already captured the imaginations of many a sports fan transfixed on the action at Alexandra Palace.
Those followers who attended the fourth day were treated to the same fluid potting that had passed before them, with Mark Selby wrestling free from an engaging battle with Mark Williams, before Barry Hawkins found his form immediately with a spellbinding performance against Shaun Murphy.
Selby has to dig deep against Williams
Veteran Williams was the first player to register his range on Wednesday afternoon, contributing a break of 65 to take a surprise lead against World number one Selby. Yet the 2016 World Champion responded in examplar fashion as he recorded the highest break of the tournament thus far, a riveting 139. Williams failed to pot in that frame, as was to be the case in the next two. Selby was motoring with contributions of 62 and 109 as the Jester scored 310 unanswered points.
Yet the momentum was soon to shift as Selby literally look his eye off the ball. A series of uncharacteristic errors allowed Williams to steal three out of the next four frames and draw level at 4-4 as the contest shifted to tactics.
Considered approaches were key in frame nine as the duo jostled for position, though Selby was to edge the critical frame by 12 points. Yet Williams showed his nous oncemore as two separate visits to the table in the following contest resulted in the Welshman making breaks of 53 and 58. Into a fourth decider of the week and it was to be Selby who showed his class with a majestic 89 under pressure to seal his place in the final eight.
The Hawk captures his prey
A close encounter was predicted in the last match of the First Round, with 2016 Runner-Up Barry Hawkins taking on established campaigner Shaun Murphy. Yet a steely-gazed Hawkins was focused on the task in hand from the start, arguably with a point to prove after his 10-1 demolition at the hands of Ronnie O'Sullivan in last year's final.
Hawkins was consistent throughout with his attacking nature, unrelinquishing in his grasp of the table as Murphy was barely afforded any kind of opportunity to formulate a telling break. In the opening five frames Hawkins made contributions including 79, 89 and 85, whilst the Magician could not find his magic touch as he scored 11 or less in four of those frames, missing a handful of pot attempts along the way.
Even when Murphy was granted an opportunity to show his class, a break of 60 was almost broken down by Hawkins. Until a missed attempted double on the pink, the number 11 seed was flirting with the possibility of the whitewash. Murphy was eventually able to celebrate a consolation frame with an ironic fist pump but his brief renaissance was short lived as Hawkins compiled a 6-1 victory with a solid break of 50 to conclude the game.
It leaves an exciting quarter-final schedule that will begin on Thursday:
Ronnie O'Sullivan (1) v Neil Robertson (8) - Thursday (2pm)
Marco Fu (14) v Mark Allen (10) - Thursday (8pm)
Barry Hawkins (11) v Mark Selby (2) - Friday (2pm)
Joe Perry (9) v Ding Junhui (6) - Friday (8pm)