UK Championship semi-finals
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UK Championship Semi-Finals Preview

The penultimate round in the UK Championship takes place on Saturday with just four players left in contention for the title in York.

Two-time UK champion Ding Junhui takes on fellow Chinese competitor Yan Bingtao in the first semi-final.

Later, the other last four clash will see 2004 winner Stephen Maguire in action against twice runner-up Mark Allen.

It promises to be a fascinating conclusion at the Barbican Centre, with a line-up that few would have predicted at the outset of the tournament.

While three out of the four remaining have plenty of pedigree in the event, none of them were necessarily producing the kind of form of late that suggested they would be vying for the £200,000 champion’s cheque.

Ding’s return to form has finally surfaced after a dismal spell in the doldrums that saw his place in the top 16 of the world rankings come under threat.

With that status secured and a place in the upcoming Masters guaranteed, the 32 year-old can now focus on his tilt at a long overdue fourth Triple Crown success.

When Ding triumphed in the 2011 Masters, adding to his UK wins from 2005 and 2009, many expected a fruitful decade for the former world number one.

Yet, it is safe to say that the years since have acted as pendulum from one extreme to another.

Ding has experienced incredible highs like his record-equalling 2013/14 campaign when he triumphed in an incredible five ranking events.

But there have been so many lows too, including dropping out of the top 16 in 2016 and the last couple of years when he hasn’t even come close to adding anything to his trophy cabinet.

Against Yan, Ding comes up against a formidable foe who arguably represents the natural successor to his mantle as China’s number one.

Yan, still only 19, has accumulated several years of experience and took the next step up the ladder with victory in the Riga Masters in July.

The former World Cup winner is on the cusp of a major breakthrough, and his defeats of Neil Robertson and John Higgins this week have certainly underlined his credentials.

Yan needs to reach the final in order to gain a debut invitation to Alexandra Palace next month but that will hardly be his primary concern.

Through their vastly different levels of experience and the way their previous encounters have gone, Ding obviously will begin as the favourite against Yan.

The latter impressed in beating two former champions but it has to be noted that neither Robertson or Higgins played well – Yan didn’t even have to compiled a break above 50 to overcome the Scot.

Ding, on the other hand, has scored quite heavily and looks as composed as he has been for a long time.

Interestingly, the pair has only crossed paths on one occasion, six years ago when Ding prevailed against a then 13 year-old Yan in one of the now defunct Asian Tour events.

Meanwhile, the second battle comprises a couple of players who are attempting to bolster their Triple Crown hauls.

A return of just one title each for Maguire and Allen isn’t really enough for talents of their pedigree.

Both seem to have a strong affinity with this event, though, with Maguire set to make a seventh last four appearance and former Masters champion Allen reaching this stage for a fourth time.

The Northern Irishman agonisingly fell short in the final twelve months ago and is widely considered as the overall favourite for glory this year with the likes of defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and world number one Judd Trump having fallen by the wayside.

That said, Allen has somewhat ridden his luck in the last few days and has made use of all eleven frames in three of his triumphs up until this point, including on Friday when he fought back from behind to end the spirited run of 54 year-old Nigel Bond.

Maguire has been hardened by a few gruelling duels as well, which could have an impact on his ambitions because a foot injury from earlier this season has begun to swell up again.

The Scot was noticeably hobbling around the table during his 6-4 quarter-final besting of Matthew Stevens.

Maguire, though, has enjoyed plenty of success already this term with victories in the World Cup and Six Red World Championship under his belt.

The 38 year-old will need to utilise all of the confidence gained from those outings because Maguire has never beaten Allen in a match longer than the best of five frames.

Indeed, Allen thrashed Maguire 6-1 in the quarter-finals of last year’s UK Championship.

Two intriguing matches in store then, with a huge amount at stake for each of the quartet involved.

Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.

Click here to view the UK Championship draw (Times: CET)

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