Ding Junhui remains on course for a rare hat-trick of ranking event titles after he came through a tough test with Peter Ebdon to reach the semi-finals of the International Championship.
The Chinese sensation had already become the clear favourite to collect the trophy in Chengdu after the defeats of several of his main competitors – including world no.1 Neil Robertson, world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and defending champion Judd Trump.
But when former world no.1 was dumped out of the competition earlier on Thursday by Marco Fu, the expectation surrounding a Ding victory became even more resounding.
The pressure didn’t seem to tell that much as the 26 year-old withstood the frustrating slow tactics of former world champion Ebdon to prevail in an elongated 6-3 triumph.
After Ding won the opening two frames in quick fashion, Ebdon was able to slow down the play enough to hang in the contest.
After three marathon frames Ebdon was only 3-2 down and in previous years his style would have frustrated Ding.
But the Shanghai Masters and Indian Open champion is full of confidence at the moment, boasting a temperament that has him credited as the best player in the world at this moment.
And he knew he had to shift through the gears in order to dispel what was always going to be a stiff challenge from his experienced opponent.
Two speedy single-scoring visits from the world no.4 brought him to within one frame of victory and, even though Ebdon narrowed the gap, Ding completed the victory in the ninth for a 6-3 win.
His success means that he is now only two further wins away from becoming the first man in 23 years to win three consecutive rankers – Stephen Hendry captured five titles on the trot in 1990.
Ding’s next obstacle will be another dogged former world champion in Scot Graeme Dott.
Dott has endured a difficult campaign so far but benefited from a kinder draw and the defeats of some of the more favoured players.
The 36 year-old’s stiffest test came in the last eight when he came up against Liang Wenbo, man in hot form following his success at Asian Tour event three and a morale boosting defeat of O’Sullivan in this tournament.
But Dott always kept the Chinese at arm’s length in a high-quality affair that ended 6-3.
In the top half, UK and Masters champion Selby went down in dramatic fashion to Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
The ‘Jester’ snatched the opening two frames on the black before Fu came storming back to lead 3-2.
Selby then appeared to be on course for a semi-final place when he won three successive frames and was only a ball away in the ninth frame of victory.
But while getting out of a snooker laid on by his opponent, Fu escaped and bagged one of his own, which granted him the initiative to go on and clinch the frame on the black.
Fu looked to have more confidence after that and controlled the remainder of the contest to complete an unlikely turnaround in the decider.
The Australian Open will face ‘Gentleman’ Joe Perry in the last four following the Englishman 6-1 thrashing of Ryan Day.
Perry, a former World and UK semi-finalist, has been a streaky player throughout his career but is definitely enjoying one of his better seasons on the circuit.
There has been an Asian dominance of ranking events this season that has dated all the way back to Fu’s triumph in Oz.
Ding added to that with a brace of his own and the finalists in the latter two were from China and India as well.
Therefore, one would have to regard Ding and Fu as likely to continue that trend but the semi-finals change to the best-of-17 format.
This allows for a narrative to develop and it is more possible for turnarounds and comebacks.
That said, with the performances that both are displaying, especially Ding, the longer format might just be delaying the inevitable.