It’ll be two Englishmen who battle it out for the China Open title after another dramatic day in Beijing.
Many were expecting it to be a Mark Selby versus Ding Junhui showdown on Sunday but the latter was pipped at the post after a superb effort from Gary Wilson on Saturday.
World champion Selby did manage to make it through his tough semi-final encounter with Norway’s Kurt Maflin – an extremely high-quality affair that the Leicester Jester prevailed in 6-3.
Selby and Maflin knocked in two tons apiece in a high-scoring duel that arguably hinged on the tactical seventh frame when the scores were locked at three frames each.
Twice a runner-up in the penultimate ranking event of the season, Selby would have probably been expecting to play the reigning champion tomorrow but 29 year-old Wilson had other ideas.
This time two years ago, Wilson wasn’t even on the Main Tour having previously had an unsuccessful spell as a professional.
Since he has regained his place on the circuit, though, he has been one of the best players of those ranked lower down the list and, following a run to the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open this year, has comfortably secured his place among the top 64 in the world rankings – those assured of their pro status for another season.
Wilson’s run this week will parachute him into an even higher echelon and he could well become the third first-time ranking event winner in a row after a wonderful 6-5 triumph over home favourite Ding this evening.
Trailing 3-1 at the interval, former taxi driver Wilson compiled breaks of 50, 60, 68 and 70 in overturning a two-frame deficit into a 5-3 advantage.
Ding responded with runs of 97 and 72 to force a thrilling decider but Wilson knocked in a 72 of his own to take the early command in the last frame.
Needing four snookers, Ding orchestrated a stunning sequence of shots to lay his opponent in some fierce traps and give himself some hope – but ultimately fell just short as a relieved Wilson got over the winning line.
Tomorrow’s final pits two players of similar enough age and background but at very different junctures of their careers.
An inexperienced Wilson goes into Sunday’s final as the complete underdog with almost nothing to lose and everything to gain from a big ranking event final appearance.
Selby, on the other hand, is seeking his sixth ranking title ahead of an eagerly awaited defence of the World Championship trophy he lifted at the Crucible just under 12 months ago.
The big difference between this tournament and the last two won by Michael White and Joe Perry is that, while the others were contested under a short format, this final will be played over the best of 19 frames.
This makes Selby an even stronger favourite.