All but one potential frame was played in a dramatic quarter-final day at the China Open on Friday.
Ding Junhui, Mark Selby and Kurt Maflin all won in deciders while England’s Gary Wilson reached his first ranking event semi-final after a 5-3 victory over Barry Hawkins.
Defending champion Ding marginally outlasted John Higgins in a thrilling last eight contest that went the distance and then some.
In a high-quality affair that ebbed one way and then the other, both players capitalised on the other’s mistakes with punishing high-scoring snooker.
Ding’s breaks of 105, 79, 68 and 50 were matched by the Scot’s runs of 86, 73 and 68 as the pair traded blow for blow before reaching the ninth frame.
Both had chances to win it in a thrilling climax and it seemed as if the Chinese Sensation was going to prevail via an outrageous fluke but a missed green left Higgins in with an opportunity to nick it.
The Welsh Open champion wobbled his return effort, though, and Ding finally maintained his composure to continue his resurgence.
After what has been a nightmare campaign for the 28 year-old, it’s good to see Ding back where he belongs at the business end of tournaments.
Indeed, even though it was always a matter of when rather than if, his rise in fortunes could not be timed more perfectly with the World Championship, his voodoo event, on the horizon.
A player who is not guaranteed a Crucible place and will be forced to advance through the dreaded three-round qualifiers in Ponds Forge next week is Gloucester’s Robert Milkins.
The 39 year-old knew that if he could earn a maiden ranking event final berth this week he would deny Stephen Maguire the last automatic spot in Sheffield.
It looked good for Milkins when he led the reigning world champion 4-3, but he didn’t have many chances in the remaining two frames as Selby, as he is so often known for, ground out the victory.
Both Ding and Selby face unexpected challengers for a spot in Sunday’s final.
The former takes on Wilson while Selby faces Kurt Maflin after the Norwegian played superbly to fight back and oust Masters champion Shaun Murphy.
Trailing 3-1 at the interval, Maflin knocked in breaks of 89, 103, 74 and 73 in four out of the next five frames to book only his second last four appearance in a tournament of this status.
Maflin is highly regarded on the tour and his displays this week will feel like justification for his talent, rather than a case of him punching above his weight.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s achievement is a high point in what has been a very successful couple of years on his return as a professional.
There have been some quiet spells, but overall Wilson’s solid performances have seen him comfortably break into the world’s top 64 and his run in the Far East comes off the back of a quarter-final appearance in the Welsh Open earlier in 2015.
Ding and Selby are obvious favourites to meet each other in what would be a grandstand showdown, but Wilson and Maflin are both capable of causing an upset on Saturday.
The last two ranking events in India and Thailand have produced first-time ranking event champions.
Is it set to be a hat-trick?
Categories: Snooker News