By the end of Saturday the two finalists in the 2016 Betfred World Championship will be known.
A dramatic penultimate day of semi-final action on Friday has left both encounters delicately poised, but China’s Ding Junhui has one foot in the showpiece final.
The 11-time ranking event winner has conjured up a magical last four tie with Alan McManus so far, and took an important last frame of the third session on the black to guarantee a four-frame 14-10 overnight cushion.
Before that, the pair had battled tremendously throughout a frantic clash which has boasted a record nine century breaks.
Ding pocketed five of those as he seemingly ran into an unassailable 9-3 lead, with many questioning whether his opponent would even avoid the dreaded session-to-spare defeat.
Yet, a momentous comeback from McManus saw the 45 year-old compile three tons of his own as he amazingly got to within one behind at 9-8.
But, where in the past Ding would have slumped his shoulders and allowed the enormity of the situation get to him at the Crucible, the 29 year-old never lost his focus and almost made a maximum break as he surged clear again.
The reds were set up perfectly from the outset of the break in the 20th frame, but a misjudged positional shot on the second last red made it tricky, and he eventually missed a cut-back 15th black.
Even at 14-10, though, with just three frames remaining to book a maiden final berth, Ding is certainly not assured of his place just yet, especially considering the grit and determination showed by his challenger throughout this championship.
McManus will need a fast start in the final session but has comebacks against Ali Carter and John Higgins to draw upon as he attempts to continue his fairy tale journey.
A lot will rely on whether Ding will begin to feel the pressure or not, but he has coped excellently with it up until this point and should he reach the final it’ll surely be headline news across his native China.
The other semi-final is even more finely balanced, as Mark Selby and Marco Fu are locked at 8-8 with two sessions still to play.
A disjointed but equally compelling affair has had both players, but especially Selby, struggle mentally in spells in the cauldron atmosphere of the single table set-up.
Despite at one point leading 7-4, the ‘Jester’ never looked in a happy mood as he struggled to find anywhere near his A-game.
Fu, meanwhile, taking advantage and seemingly on course to overturn the deficit into a lead of his own, suffered an unusual equipment malfunction when his tip fell off the cue during a routine chalking mid-frame.
Thankfully, Welsh referee Paul Collier did a superb job in reapplying the integral piece so Fu could indeed forge ahead at 8-7 but the Hong Kong 38 year-old let slip a golden chance for a two-frame cushion when he missed a straight red in the last.
That tie has late night drama on Saturday written all over it, though, and Fu will be desperate to go one better than his deciding frame defeat at this stage to Peter Ebdon a decade ago.
A fascinating 15th day in Sheffield in prospect.
Categories: Snooker News