World no.1 Mark Selby remains on course to claim the International Championship for the first time as he reached the semi-finals on Thursday in Daqing.
Selby prevailed in a lengthy quarter-final bout with Neil Robertson 6-4 to set up an intriguing tie against John Higgins – a repeat of the 2007 World Championship final.
Despite there being a century each from the duo, the match between Selby and the Australian was predominantly a scrappy affair with several elongated frames.
Both men enjoyed lots of chances but in the end the ‘Jester’ accomplished what he so often manages to – win despite not being able to perform with his A-game.
Selby will meet Higgins in the last four after the Scot ousted Joe Perry, even after being pushed a little closer than it was looking like being early on.
Higgins raced into a 4-0 lead, which in fact had incredibly been his 15th winning frame in a row during the event, but lost three out of the next four to almost arrive at squeaky bum time.
Perry looked as though he was going to force a tenth frame but missed his chance before Higgins potted an excellent pink and black to complete the win.
It continues a remarkable return to form for the 40 year-old this year following his triumphs in the Welsh and Australian Opens.
The top half of the draw produced two titanic battles that resulted in a pair of entirely unexpected cueists making the last four.
40th seed David Gilbert will meet 47th seed Thepchaiya Un-Nooh for a place in Sunday’s final after emerging from grueling duels with their respective top 16 opponents.
First, Thailand’s Un-Nooh triumphed in yet another deciding frame – his fourth of this week and fifth in the tournament overall – to embark on only his second last four appearance in a ranking event.
The Six Red world champion was the complete underdog in his quarter-final tie with Mark Allen despite already proving his mettle in close encounters with Ross Muir, Mark Williams and Zhou Yuelong that each also went the distance.
Last year’s finalist Allen began the more brightly and should have been 3-1 up at the interval only to lose the fourth frame on the black.
This sparked a period of scrappy snooker which Un-Nooh gratefully took advantage of by surging two clear before beginning to display the nerves of a man who had rarely been in this kind of position before in his career.
Allen fought back to 4-4 but Un-Nooh’s erratic consistency continued in the ninth frame as an excellent 99 took him to within one frame of victory.
Despite a 118 from the Northern Irishman to level again, Un-Nooh dominated the final frame to match his showing at the Indian Open earlier in 2015.
Similarly, in the other quarter-final clash 2013 runner-up Marco Fu began as the big favourite but could not shake off a determined Gilbert after opening up 3-1 and 4-2 cushions over the Englishman.
Gilbert, now 34, who has long been considered a talented pro who has perhaps failed to live up to his potential, then fought back to lead 5-4 only to see Hong Kong’s Fu compile a 78 to take it to a shoot-out.
Both competitors had chances in a dramatic decider but Fu’s inability to accumulate enough points when on a break of 57 was paramount to eventually allowing his challenger in for one last chance, which Gilbert grasped under extreme pressure to clinch the game on the black.
Two markedly different semi-finals in store for Friday and Saturday then with the final guaranteed to be between a proven ranking event winner and a player seeking their first success in the classification.