All-Chinese Affair in Shanghai

There’ll be an all-Chinese final in a ranking event for the first time after Ding Junhui and Xiao Guodong won their semi-finals at the Shanghai Masters on Saturday.

Both players were made to work hard for their victories despite the seemingly one-sided look of both scorelines.

Xiao overcame England’s Michael Holt, who was similarly appearing in his first semi-final, 6-3, showing few nerves in the final frame as he completed the win with a cool century.

Later on, his compatriot Ding Junhui ousted World Championship runner-up Barry Hawkins 6-2 in a long battle in which the Chinese showed impeccable patience – as he has done throughout the entire week’s action.

Sunday will then be a groundbreaking day for Chinese snooker, and the sport in general.

Ever since Ding’s famous China Open triumph as a teenager in 2005, the massive Far East country has seen an explosion of interest in the game.

An estimated 100 million people have tuned in to watch important matches in the past and it would not be surprising to see a record figure setting their eyes upon this final.

Despite being a national hero, regarded as the third most popular sports star in China, Ding has actually largely failed to impress on home soil since he captured that title in Beijing more than eight years ago.

The 26 year-old often appeared to be playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders – and considering China accounts for about a sixth of the world’s population he wasn’t far wrong.

This week, though, Ding has displayed maturity and patience as he manoeuvred his way through the rounds, especially in his thrilling 5-4 defeat over Shaun Murphy in the second round.

Backing that up with wins over world no.1 Neil Robertson and then Hawkins last night is testament to how well he is playing.

That said, in the final he will have to deal with the majority of the pressure once more.

Taking on his younger countryman, he will be expected to come out on top while he will also want to ensure that his status as China’s best remains untouched.

Xiao’s emergence will be good overall for Ding, but he will still be determined to stamp his authority.

Xiao’s route to the final has been difficult too, but perhaps he benefited a little from a series of unlikely results in the top half of the draw.

After impressively beating Stephen Maguire in the opening round, the 24 year-old saw off Peter Lines 5-3.

It was in the quarter-finals that Xiao really proved his pedigree when he came from 4-2 down to see off in-form player Mark Davis – and he carried that confidence into the bout with Holt.

Xiao has long been considered as one of the current batch of Chinese players – along with Liang Wenbo, Cao Yupeng, Liu Chuang and others – who should be making strides into the higher echelons of the sport.

Despite sometimes threatening, none of these players have consistently been able to perform at the business end of events.

This could be a defining moment for Xiao and, even though he will be the firm underdog, there is nothing to suggest that he could not go out into the arena today and cause his compatriot a lot of problems.

Either way, there’s a fascinating day in store with this first all-Chinese final – an historic scene for snooker that I’m sure will be replicated many times in the future.

The full draw and list of results can be viewed by clicking here

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