Neil Robertson and Liang Wenbo will contest the first all-overseas UK Championship final in York on Sunday.
The Australian and Chinese competitors emerged through contrasting semi-finals on Saturday to set up a clash for the second biggest ranking title.
While Robertson was clinical in his 6-0 drubbing of Mark Selby, Liang was forced to prevail in a sub-standard affair with David Grace which overran.
Both players probably began their respective semi-final encounters as marginal favourites but neither would have expected to advance in the manner that they did.
Many were hoping that former champions Robertson and Selby would produce a high-quality classic, with the winner guaranteed to be the overwhelming favourite for overall success going into Sunday’s final.
However, Selby uncharacteristically squandered many of his opportunities early on in frames to repeatedly allow his opponent in to pounce, which a grateful Robertson duly did for a 6-0 victory.
The scoreline doesn’t reflect what was actually a closer contest but the 2013 champion was ruthless in his punishment, just as he had been relentless in his scoring in previous victories in the tournament.
That win followed an earlier 6-4 triumph for 28 year-old Liang, who fought back from 4-2 down to deny David Grace a maiden appearance in a ranking event final.
Their last four battle was an arduous affair with both experiencing the pressures that come alongside featuring in a major semi-final amid a single table set-up in front of a large crowd.
It wasn’t the prettiest but Liang won’t care, highlighted by jubilant celebrations upon potting the final black, with Sunday being a new day.
That said, the former Shanghai Masters runner-up will need to improve his game considerably if he is to have any chance whatsoever of challenging a formidable Robertson.
If Liang starts the final with the same level of trepidation that he experienced in his encounter with Grace, he’ll quickly see his chances evaporate against a competitor who thrives on the big occasion.
Somewhat surprisingly, this represents Robertson’s first ranking event final since the 2014 Australian Open, but it marks his 17th in total during his illustrious career and victory would add to the 10 titles he has already accumulated.
Liang is seeking his first but he is at least safe in the knowledge that his unexpected run this week, which has now earned him a huge payday of at least £70,000, will see him rise into the top 16 and guarantees a debut invitation to the Masters next month.
The pair has met five times in events carrying ranking points in the past, with the head-to-head 3-2 in favour of the ‘Thunder from Down Under’, but none of those meetings came beyond the last 16 nor under a longer format.
All common sense points towards Robertson romping to a comfortable second UK Championship, but it’s only two sessions of snooker and on any given day strange things can materialise.
It is imperative for Liang to get off to a positive start, though, as it is highly unlikely that Robertson would fold in the same way Grace, Judd Trump and Tom Ford managed to in previous rounds.
With being the obvious favourite comes its own degree of anxiety, but Robertson is well experienced at this stage of tournaments to handle any such nerves, and the 33 year-old will be expecting to lift the famous trophy aloft again come Sunday evening.
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