Barry Hawkins fought back from two frames down to deny home favourite Ding Junhui a place in the Shanghai Masters final with a deciding frame victory in China on Saturday.
In a topsy-turvy affair that swung one way and then the other, Hawkins recovered from losing five frames in succession to win three on the trot himself from 9-7 down to snatch it at the death.
It denied Ding’s legion of supporters a dream showdown against Ronnie O’Sullivan on Sunday, who had already booked his place in the final courtesy of a 10-6 triumph over Kyren Wilson.
But there wasn’t much Ding could do as Hawkins played outstanding snooker from the brink of defeat to continue his quest to land the £200,000 top prize in the revamped invitational event.
The semi-final encounter, which was a repeat of the pair’s quarter-final clash at the Crucible in which Hawkins hammered the former world number one to reach the last four in Sheffield for the fifth time in six seasons, proved to be a story of momentum.
From 4-3 adrift, Hawkins won four frames in a row to seemingly take control of the contest as Ding, exuding a familiar expression of indifference, looked to be heading for a disappointing and limp exit.
However, the two-time former champion sparked into life with runs of 100, 83, and 93 helping him to establish a 9-7 advantage and apparently guarantee a mouthwatering clash with the “Rocket” on home soil.
But Hawkins responded in champion’s fashion, reeling off runs of 101, 60 and 67 as he denied Ding even a single point over the last three frames for an emphatic come-from-behind glory.
The 39 year-old will be the player tasked with the challenge of overcoming O’Sullivan then and the “Hawk” is no stranger to playing his countryman in major finals.
Hawkins performed admirably in defeat to O’Sullivan in the 2013 World Snooker Championship final before being truly humbled with a 10-1 reverse in the title decider of the Masters in 2016.
Their latest affair will take place over the unusual best of 21 frames and perhaps in Hawkins’ favour is the fact that he at least got one over on O’Sullivan the last time that they met in a multi-session tie when he emerged victorious from their second round World Championship match from two years ago.
That said, en route to O’Sullivan’s success in last year’s Shanghai Masters, when it was last staged a ranking event, the five-time world champion whitewashed Hawkins and overall boasts a 10-2 head-to-head record over the world number seven.
It’s fair to say that O’Sullivan hasn’t been at his very best during the tournament, which has represented his first appearance of the new campaign after almost five months away from the sport competitively.
But the fact that the five-time world champion has reached the final regardless of his prolonged absence, and in a somewhat nonchalant manner that hasn’t really seen him work up too much of a sweat, would be cause for concern for any challenger.
Hawkins certainly has the game to upset O’Sullivan on a given day, but whether he can produce it on what will represent one of the biggest occasions of his career will be quite another thing entirely.
For O’Sullivan, the 42 year-old lives for these moments and has proven in the last few years, and indeed throughout his career, that he loves winning the tournaments that boast an elite field and carry a huge prize fund.
There were many who wondered whether O’Sullivan could replicate the kind of form that saw him capture a record-equalling five ranking trophies during the last term.
Yet, we’re already at the point where we would be surprised if he were to be denied a first piece of silverware of this campaign, and it’s up to Hawkins to say otherwise.
Live coverage of the Shanghai Masters final is on Eurosport and Quest TV.
Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)