Ding Junhui emerged triumphant from a classic all-Chinese World Championship encounter with Liang Wenbo that went the distance on Saturday.
The 2016 runner-up led 9-7 going into the final session of their second round clash at the Crucible, but his countryman appeared the more assertive in the early exchanges.
Liang won the opening three frames of the afternoon – which at the time also meant he’d taken eight out of the previous 11 frames – to move in front for the first time in the contest at 10-9.
The pair traded the subsequent four frames as Liang continued to edge ahead by the odd number and he crucially moved to within one of victory.
However, Ding produced a wondrous 132 in the penultimate frame to force the decider.
Liang had the first opportunity in the shootout but miscued when in amongst the balls, before Ding played a telling safety shot which forced another error from the challenger.
With the reds perfectly spread, a run of 70 proved enough for the 12-time ranking event champion as he moved forward into the quarter-finals.
The players shared a warm embrace at the end to bring to a conclusion a terrific tie which featured an array of big breaks, a brilliant fight back from 6-2 behind for Liang, and ultimately a fittingly champion’s finish from Ding to clinch it.
The latter was involved in a mammoth battle with his compatriot and it’s debatable whether he would have survived it on the big stage in Sheffield in years gone by.
But, working with renowned coach Terry Griffiths, Ding has a much improved temperament these days and is significantly more relaxed around the table, underlined by his ability to partake in some lighthearted moments throughout the fixture.
It’ll increasingly become more serious as the tournament progresses into the business end of proceedings, however.
Next up is the “Rocket” for Ding, as he prepares to face Ronnie O’Sullivan in the World Championship for the first time since his debut at the Crucible ten years ago.
On that occasion, O’Sullivan inflicted a 10-2 drubbing on the then young and shy Ding but the Chinese sensation is unlikely to be as intimidated this time around.
O’Sullivan, though, is playing to an extremely high standard so far in this championship, highlighted by his resounding 13-7 victory over Shaun Murphy which was completed earlier today as well.
The 41 year-old scored heavily and withstood a mini Murphy revival from 9-3 to 9-6 on Friday, clinching a crucial last frame of the second session on the black to maintain a four-frame overnight cushion.
This morning, the five-time champion never looked like slipping up and the upcoming encounter with Ding could prove to be another classic.
It’ll mark as O’Sullivan’s 18th World Championship quarter-final, an incredible achievement, but he’ll only be content if he goes on and lifts a sixth world crown on Monday week.
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