Stephen Maguire beat Alfie Burden 5-1 to reach the semi-finals of the China Open in Beijing.
In doing so, the Scot ensured that he would break back into the top 16 in the world rankings just in time to gain automatic qualification to the World Championship in a fortnight.
Maguire’s elation is Ding Junhui’s despair as the Chinese no.1 drops outside of the elite bracket on his 29th birthday.
It means that the 11-time ranking event winner will be forced to attend Ponds Forge next week in Sheffield, where a taxing three victories will be required in order to qualify for the Crucible.
Ding will still be favourite to achieve just that and book his place in the last 32, but even if he does, with the tournament beginning a mere three days after the conclusion of the qualifying stage, it’s debatable whether Ding, or any unseeded competitor, will subsequently have the stamina to go on and challenge for the world crown.
Yet, Ding can only have himself to blame after a poor couple of campaigns up until February, before then losing to Lee Walker in the opening round of his home event this week.
Maguire will be thanking his lucky stars at how the draw opened up for him but, in saying that, the 35 year-old did hold himself together tremendously well to fulfill his goal of at least reaching the last four.
On Friday, the 2008 champion began shakily but he was able to take advantage of an opponent in Alfie Burden who was featuring at this stage of a ranking event for the first time in his career.
Once Maguire established a half-time 3-1 lead, it was always going to be difficult for Burden to turn things around and offer any salvation to Ding’s army of supporters.
Who knows what this could do for Maguire’s confidence, who has equally struggled for large chunks of period recently, as he bids to launch what would be an unexpected challenge in Sheffield.
Many years ago Maguire said that he wanted to win the world title before he was 30.
That age has long since gone but there is still plenty of time if he can recapture the kind of consistent scoring form that he possessed a decade ago.
For now, of course, Maguire can concentrate on winning the China Open for a second time without any added pressures involved with the permutations in the rankings.
He’ll face Judd Trump in the semi-final on Saturday after the Englishman won the last three frames in a grueling contest with Mark King that ended 5-3.
Meanwhile, the bottom half of the draw has constructed another battle between a Scot and and Englishman, as John Higgins and Ricky Walden prepare to lock horns for a final berth.
Higgins almost let a 4-0 lead slip to Noppon Saengkham before eventually getting over the winning line with a frame to spare against the Thai.
However, Walden had it all his own way in a 5-1 drubbing of world champion Stuart Bingham – who can now turn his attentions to the opening Saturday at the Crucible.
The semi-finals will see the format increased from best of nine to best of 11 frames and there’ll be live coverage on Eurosport.
Categories: Snooker News