Drama is the Crucible's stock in trade and the Sheffield theatre will today play host to Act V of a World Championship saga between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry in this year's semi-finals after those titans of the game both progressed to the last four yesterday, and a fifth Crucible meeting.
O'Sullivan, the most naturally gifted player the sport has known and twice a champion, in 2001 and 2004, made it to the last four after seeing off the challenge of Liang Wenbo, the 21-year-old Chinese upstart whose all-attack style has thrilled audiences since his first-round demolition of Ken Doherty. O'Sullivan prevailed 13-7 last night.
Hendry is the undisputed king of the big-stage baize, with a record seven world titles already to his name. He kept himself on course for an unlikely eighth at the age of 39 by completing a 13-7 quarter-final win yesterday over Ryan Day.
The winner of their duel will be the favourite for the title in a final against either Ali Carter or Joe Perry. That pair meet in the other semi, which also starts today. Carter, 28, from Essex, beat Peter Ebdon 13-9 yesterday, while journeyman Perry, 33, won a to-the-wire battle with Maguire, 13-12, that finished at 11.28pm.
The last time Hendry progressed so far, in 2004, he played Sullivan and lost 17-4, which remains the biggest margin of defeat in any Crucible semi-final.
"Ronnie is the best player in the world at the moment, right-handed, left-handed, one-legged, one-armed, whatever you want," said Hendry. "He's a genius. I've got the game capable of beating him, but I need to bring my best game out."
O'Sullivan said: "It's good to be in the semi-final against a fantastic player." This year's semi-final will be Hendry's 12th, a record that eclipses Steve Davis's 11, and keeps him in contention for a 10th final (he lost in 1997 and 2002) and a first title since 1999.
Aside from the 2004 semi-final, which O'Sullivan used as a springboard to win the second of his own two titles to date, Hendry and the Rocket have met at the Crucible on three other occasions. Hendry won all three, 17-14 in the 2002 semi-final before losing the final to Ebdon; 17-13 in 1999 before beating Mark Williams in the final; and 13-8 in the 1995 quarters before beating Nigel Bond in the final.