REIGNING Masters champion Shaun Murphy closed in on a quarter-final place at the World Snooker Championships last night, with a blistering display against Joe Perry.
And he looks set to be joined in the last eight by Judd Trump, as well as former champions Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan, on a day of domination on the tables at Sheffield.
The Magician looked set to storm through with a session to spare after dominating both the morning and evening sessions.
But he ran out of steam late on, as Perry reduced the overnight deficit to 12-4.
After carving out a 7-1 lead after the morning session, Murphy returned later that night in a blood orange suit that matched the Crucible carpet and extended his advantage to 10-2 at the interval.
The Magician is enjoying some of his finest form in recent times, with back-to-back European Tour event wins as well as a place in February’s German Masters final already under his belt.
But he was able to keep plenty in reserve en route to extending his lead, needed just two half centuries to keep the momentum going.
Perry, though, clawed his way back into the contest with a 74 break enough to win frame 12 and then produced a timely century break – his first of the tournament – to keep the Magician at arm’s length, albeit briefly.
Frame 14 was to-and-fro, Murphy though eventually triumphed courtesy of a 40 clearance with the finish line now in sight.
And though he missed out on a century in the next, the Nottingham star moved within touching distance of a meeting with world No 32 Anthony McGill – slayer of reigning world champion Mark Selby in round two.
Yet they will have to return today, after Perry won the final frame of the evening with a 74 break.
On table two, Trump, fresh from winning the inaugural World Grand Prix last month, led 5-3 from the morning and won all four frames before the interval, the last of them with an eye-catching 111 break.
But the 13th frame proved lucky for Marco Fu, his win ensuring the pair will have to finish their last-eight contest today.
While the other three matches look set to be over in an instant, the 37-year-old from Hong Kong showed great determination with a 54-break in the 14th putting him back to within four.
Five-time world champion O’Sullivan won seven of eight frames against Matthew Stevens in an imperious display to lead 12-4.
His ill-fitting shoes earned most of the attention in round one, while on Saturday night O’Sullivan slammed his cue against the table in frustration at a missed pot at the start of his second-round encounter with Stevens.
And he was in hot water again yesterday when referee Olivier Marteel warned O’Sullivan after he made a hand gesture when frustrated at missing a red in the final frame of the afternoon session.
But Essex’s finest needs just one more frame to reach the quarter-finals.
O’Sullivan held a 5-3 overnight lead and made a storming start yesterday with a 63 break.
Frame 11 was a scrappy affair that took O’Sullivan 25 minutes to claim, but plucky Stevens was not prepared to give up without a fight and cleared the table with a break of 55.
But reigning UK champion O’Sullivan won the final five frames of the session, rattling in two centuries in the process, to move within a frame of an 11th quarter-final appearance in 12 years.
And 2010 winner Robertson should join the Rocket after opening up an 11-5 lead on Ali Carter.
Resuming with a 6-2 overnight advantage, Robertson recovered from dropping the first frame to rattle off five in a row – a majestic 119 break the highlight.
And despite letting the final two frames of the session slip, the Australian needs just two more to book a quarter-final with world No 5 Barry Hawkins.
A break of 61 saw Carter clinch the opening frame, but Robertson was back to his best in frame ten, piecing together a 72 break to regain a four-frame lead.
Frame 11 was a test of concentration, nerve and geometry, in which Robertson cleared the table to win by two points, punching the air after rolling the black in along the bottom rail.
With a fresh spring in his step, Robertson took a six-frame lead into the mid-session interval with an impressive 119 break and continued to be ruthless in frame 13 to move 10-3 ahead.
A break of 71 in the next, left Carter facing the possibility of going home from Sheffield with a session to spare. But the former world No 2 hit back to reduce the overnight deficit.
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