China Championship semi-finals
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Preview: China Championship Semi-Finals

Two players from the exciting crop of young Chinese cueists will face off against a pair of multiple world champions in the China Championship semi-finals on Saturday.

China Championship semi-finals
Higgins won the China Championship as an invitational in 2016. Photo credit: World Snooker

Zhao Xintong and Lyu Haotian, still only aged 21 and 20 respectively, will meet world number one Mark Selby and 30-time ranking event winner John Higgins for a maiden final berth.

Selby knocked out another of the up-and-coming stars of the future after a 5-2 defeat of teenager Yuan Sijun, who earlier in the event caused a sensation when he dispatched of compatriot and hero Ding Junhui in a decider.

Leicester’s Selby always had too much in the tank this time, though, with the 35 year-old looking set to prolong his recent love affair with events hosted in China.

In just over three years, Selby has landed a hat-trick of China Open crowns as well as a double in the International Championship, and without question he’ll be the man expected to advance to the title decider at the Tianhe Sports Centre this weekend.

Yet, to do that he’ll have to overcome man of the moment Zhao, who has been a revelation this season since bouncing immediately back onto the Main Tour via Q School in May having unexpectedly dropped off the circuit at the conclusion of the last term.

Zhao, who accounted for world champion Mark Williams in the round prior, has firmly ironed out the mistakes of his debut tenure and can finally fulfill the potential that has been long labelled on his game.

Selby and Zhao have faced each other twice before, with both ties played over the shorter best of seven guise and going the way of the three-time world champion, but this should represent an entirely different kind of contest.

The format is obviously longer, with the China Championship semi-finals increasing to the best of 11 frames, but Zhao must be considered a realistic force to reckon with after securing two outstanding come-from-behind triumphs over first Williams, and then Barry Hawkins in the last eight.

The manner in which Zhao overturned his 4-3 deficit to Shanghai Masters runner-up Hawkins, courtesy of magnificently cool breaks under pressure of 94 and 82, demonstrated just what level this kid could potentially strive for.

Higgins, meanwhile, and Lyu will meet in the first of the China Championship semi-finals tomorrow after emerging from contrasting last eight ties on Friday.

Lyu raced out of the blocks against Martin O’Donnell, a surprise addition to proceedings at this stage of the competition after an impressive run that included a victory over the defending champion Luca Brecel.

The Englishman could do little to prevent his 20 year-old opponent from reaching the single table set-up of a ranking event for the second time in his career, though.

Lyu established a hasty 3-0 advantage, helped by a brace of tons, and even though O’Donnell avoided the whitewash it never really looked as though the result was going to turn out any other way.

Higgins, on the other hand, prevailed in a surprising war of attrition with Judd Trump, a clash that was predicted to be an entertaining renewal of a rivalry that has seen the pair cross paths on numerous big occasions in the past.

But they traded only four breaks above 50 and, despite at times looking like he’d rather be back home with his feet up in Wishaw, Higgins outlasted the ever-inconsistent Trump for a 5-3 success and a fourth win on the trot against the 29 year-old.

The Scot will be the overwhelming favourite against Lyu to progress to Sunday’s showdown for the £150,000 champion’s cheque and Higgins will have fond memories of playing Lyu in this tournament following his 5-0 drubbing of the Chinese twelve months ago in the first round.

That said, Lyu is a much more dangerous animal these days and his run, which was aided by the withdrawal of Kyren Wilson who he was due to meet in the last 64 this week, matches his previous best in a ranking event when he reached the same stage at the Northern Ireland Open last November.

It will be interesting to see if he can use the home support to his advantage, although it has to be said that the crowd numbers have been borderline awful in Guangzhou this week.

There are extenuating reasons for this and it’s easy to automatically question the credibility of the reports that snooker is huge in China – which it is – but what one does have to question is whether or not hosting big money tournaments to the backdrop of rows upon rows of empty seats is the right image for the sport.

Of course, what the powers that be might secretly be hoping for now is a dream final – not between legends of the sport Selby and Higgins, but comprising maybe a couple of viable Hall of Famers for the future in Zhao and Lyu.

Live coverage continues on Eurosport.

Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)



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World Rankings Top 16

World Rankings after the Northern Ireland Open – won by Mark Allen.

1. Judd Trump
2. Mark Selby
3. Ronnie O’Sullivan
4. Neil Robertson
5. Kyren Wilson
6. John Higgins
7. Shaun Murphy
8. Stephen Maguire
9. Mark Allen
10. Ding Junhui
11. Mark Williams
12. Stuart Bingham
13. Yan Bingtao
14. Barry Hawkins
15. Jack Lisowski
16. Anthony McGill

Fin Ruane Snooker Academy