World top 15 obliterated at the Northern Ireland Open

Mark Williams is the highest ranked player left in the competition as numerous star names crashed out before the last 16.

World top 15 obliterated at the Northern Ireland Open
There was plenty to ponder for O'Sullivan (photo: Getty Images / VCG)

Ronnie O'Sullivan headed a lengthy list of snooker superstars to suffer an early exit at the Northern Ireland Open as a quartet of top ten seeds followed their compatriots out of the competition.

World number 16 Mark Williams the highest ranked player to reach the last 16

Five-time World champion O'Sullivan was hunting the prospect of a £1 million jackpot as he chased the second trophy of four in the Home Nations series. After previously criticising the amount of lower ranked players competing in the tournament, O'Sullivan was stunned 4-1 by number 78 seed Elliot Slessor who had booked a flight home for Thursday evening.

Former World champions John Higgins and Neil Robertson fell short in final frame deciders against Gary Wilson and Robert Milkins respectively. Higgins had previously recorded the highest break of the tournament in his contest with an emphatic 142.

A new Northern Ireland Open champion will also be confirmed on Sunday as Mark King was dismissed by Chinese hotshot Yan Bingtao. A quartet of players from the Far East progressed to the last 16, most notably number 97 seed Li Yuan, who made up the 83-place deficit on Anthony McGill, and Lu Haotian who ensured a player seeded outside the top 100 remained in the tournament.

Michael Holt was surprised by Mike Dunn, whilst Sam Craigie reached the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time. However, a dream week for Jimmy White was abruptly ended with a 4-0 defeat to Chris Wakelin.

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Seven players outside the top 29 seeds make the quarter-finals

The surprise results continued into Thursday's evening session with a place at the quarter-finals at stake. 19-year old Haotian reached that stage of a ranking event for the first time in five years as he defeated Liam Highfield despite being ranked 35 places below the number 66 seed. The Chinese youngster now faces compatriot Tian Pengfei in the final eight after the number 58 seed thrashed Chris Wakelin 4-1 to reach his first ranking quarter-final.

Robert Milkins saw off a brief comeback by Ricky Walden to win 4-2 as another top 20 seeded departed and that was also the case for Joe Perry as he crashed out to Mike Dunn. The number 42 seed faces Mark Williams next who held his nerve to come from 2-1 down to defeat David Gilbert 4-2.

Elliot Slessor ensured the concern of rearranging his flight home and finding a hotel to spend the night did not affect his concentration as he cruised past Sam Craigie to reach the quarter-finals of a ranking event for the first time.

Further shocks then continued late into the night. Li Yuan made a mockery of his 97 seeding by dismissing Gary Wilson ranked 44 places above him. Ryan Day then left Mark Williams as the only player in the top 29 seeds as he lost a final frame decider against Yan Bingtao.

The surprise quarter-final line-up reads as follows with seedings in brackets and at least two players outside the top 50 guaranteed a place in the final four:

Yan Bingtao (33) vs Robert Milkins (30)

Tian Pengfei (58) vs Lu Haotian (101)

Li Yuan (97) vs Elliot Slessor (78)

Mike Dunn (42) vs Mark Williams (15)