Ding Junhui recorded arguably his best win of the entire season as he ousted the in-form Mark Williams to reach the quarter-final of the China Open on Thursday.
The defending champion looked a much more confident force following his earlier victories this week over Marcus Campbell and Mark Davis, knocking in breaks of 103 and 68 en route to a 5-2 defeat of the Welshman.
Williams was enjoying an excellent sequence of results that saw him reach at least the quarter-finals in his last six tournaments, but was unhappy with the playing conditions and Ding took advantage to the delight of his adoring fans.
Much has been made about the turmoil the recently turned 28 year-old has endured during this campaign but all of that will be quickly forgotten if he can realise his potential again in April.
Not only will Ding be trying to retain the trophy in China, but there’s the small matter of the World Championship in Sheffield on the horizon – the only major tournament, of course, that he has so far failed to get his hands on.
Ding will face John Higgins tomorrow for a place in the last four after the Scot produced a wonderful two-part clearance to deny Judd Trump in a thrilling deciding frame climax that went to the final black.
Welsh Open champion Higgins had the better of his opponent early on, much like their head-to-head record already reflected, and he was subsequently on the brink of victory at 4-2.
However, Trump responded with runs of 42 and 68 to quickly draw level, before a 59 break appeared to swing the match in his favour at the death.
Yet, Higgins seized his opportunity with an attacking mindset, sinking a series of stunning shots for a success that even warranted a fist pump from the four-time world champion.
While in spells this season the likes of Trump, Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen have all looked like consistent contenders in many tournaments, the old guard of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Williams and Higgins just continue to defy their age and between them have featured at the business end of almost every event.
Meanwhile, in the race for the final automatic Crucible spot, Robert Milkins tallied four half-centuries in ousting rival Michael White from the running with a 5-1 victory.
Stephen Maguire maintains the 16th and final place but the situation is now out of his hands after going down 5-3 to the resurgent Barry Hawkins.
Milkins now knows the task at hand – if he can reach the final in the Far East he’ll leapfrog the Scot and avoid the dreaded three-round qualifiers at Ponds Forge next week.
Anything less and Maguire will just about hang on.
Unfortunately for Milkins, the Gloucester cueist must tackle Sheffield’s last champion Mark Selby in the last eight after the ‘Jester’ beat David Gilbert 5-2.
Elsewhere, Shaun Murphy edged Jamie Jones 5-3 before continuing his neverending tirade about eradicating kicks from the game on Twitter, while Kurt Maflin and Gary Wilson enjoyed 5-1 successes over Robin Hull and Dechawat Poomjaeng respectively.