China’s Ding Junhui delighted the home crowd late on Thursday by hanging on for a 6-5 victory over world number one Mark Selby in the Shanghai Masters quarter-finals.
Ding was never behind in the contest but was typically pegged back on numerous occasions by Selby, who almost repeated his trademark come-from-behind deciding frame win from the previous round.
The pair has been involved in several high-profile encounters in the last few years with many of those clashes proving to be close affairs, and this occasion was no different.
However, it wasn’t quite as high-quality as what might have been expected from these two stars of the sport, albeit that was more than made up for in terms of tension and drama.
Aside from a couple of huge breaks just after the mid-session interval from Ding that helped him to establish a two-frame cushion for the first time, the majority of the match was cagey and it wasn’t a real surprise to see it go the distance.
In a repeat of their last fixture in the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix last season, Ding prevailed in the eleventh frame to book his place in the last four.
Not to be today, I gave it my all as always but just one step to far. Good luck to ding he is a class act and a great lad. Next stop Guangzhou 😃
— Mark Selby (@markjesterselby) September 13, 2018
After beating Selby in Preston in February, Ding went on to lose to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final and the showdown for the trophy on Sunday could be contested between the same couple of competitors again.
But before that, O’Sullivan must first overcome the man of the moment Kyren Wilson while Ding Junhui plays Barry Hawkins, who battled his way to a maiden victory of his career over Mark Williams.
In a scrappy tie that boasted only three half-century breaks and a high run of a paltry 61, Hawkins just about scrambled home with a 6-4 scoreline to gain a modicum of revenge for his painful loss to the Welshman at the semi-final stage of the World Snooker Championship in May.
One would suspect that Hawkins will need to raise his game if he’s to deny Ding a crack at capturing a third Shanghai Masters crown but, with the format increasing to the best of 19 frames, the 39 year-old might be better suited to the task.
The three-time ranking event champion’s record in multi-session matches is impressive, highlighted by his strong displays in Sheffield that have helped him reach the semi-finals or better at the Crucible in five out of the last six editions.
Still, Ding is a proven winner in his own right and when he gets to the business end of a competition he usually becomes an even greater challenge to overcome.
Of course, the 31 year-old will have his legion of followers offering him an extra boost and, while this attention might have hindered his progress in the past, recent results would suggest that Ding is more than comfortable now with conditions on his own turf.
In fact, six out of the last seven professional trophies that Ding has lifted have come in China, including the last three of his 13 ranking event titles.
That said, in Hawkins’ favour is a superior head-to-head record with the former world number one and the recent memory of hammering Ding in the quarter-finals of this year’s World Championship.
The four semi-finalists are already guaranteed a huge £60,000 sum but, with £200,000 on offer for the champion in this richly revamped invitational, there’s sure to be plenty of nerves on show over the next couple of days.