Ding Junhui became the first Asian player to reach the Crucible final by beating Alan McManus 17-11 at the Betfred World Championship.
Ding produced a formidable display of break-building as he became the first player to make seven centuries in a single match at the Crucible. That tally also tied the record for any match, equalling Stephen Hendry’s seven tons in the 1994 UK Championship final. McManus himself made three centuries in a tremendous contest and their combined total of ten is also a new record.
China’s 29-year-old Ding got past the semi-final stage in Sheffield at the second attempt, having lost in that round against Judd Trump in 2011. James Wattana of Thailand and Marco Fu of Hong Kong are the other Asian players to have reached the last four on snooker’s biggest stage, and now Ding is the first to go one step further. In fact he could meet Fu, who is tied 12-12 with Mark Selby, in the final over 35 frames on Sunday and Monday, with a top prize of £330,000 and the famous trophy on offer.
Ding is a winner of 11 ranking events, including two UK Championship crowns, yet has rarely produced his best at the Crucible. Conversely his best run in Sheffield has come during a season in which he has struggled for form for long periods. In fact he dropped out of the top 16 after a first round defeat against Lee Walker in the first round of the China Open last month and had to win three qualifying rounds to make it to the TV stages.
Perhaps feeling under less pressure than he has in past years, he negotiated the qualifiers for the loss of just seven frames and has grown in confidence as the event has progressed. At times his play against McManus was spell-binding, and he could be hard to stop in the final. Already one of China’s most famous sportsmen, victory would further raise Ding’s profile in the Far East and add fuel to the fire of snooker’s rapid growth in the region.
Glasgow’s McManus was the oldest Crucible semi-finalist in 31 years and was playing in the last four for the first time since 1993. He battled admirably and looked in with a chance last night at 12-10, but Ding crucially won the last two frames to lead by four.
Ding also won the first frame today with runs of 31 and 29 to extend his lead to 15-10. The next came down to a safety battle on the colours and McManus potted brown and blue to lead by 16 points. Ding got the snooker he needed on the pink, but after a tactical exchange McManus potted a long pink to pull one back.
However there was to be no fight back as Ding’s 123, his seventh century of the match and 12th of the tournament, made it 16-11, and he soon secured victory in frame 28.
“I want to be excited but my heart is like normal,” said Ding after becoming the first qualifier to reach the world final since Trump in 2011. “The tournament hasn’t finished yet and the last match starts tomorrow. I want to keep my focus.
“This season hasn’t been good but in the last two months I have started to play well. Now I’m so confident to play anybody and just play snooker. This is the happiest I could be. My supporters just keep coming more and more, they’re crazy like that. I want to stay away from that and keep calm.”
McManus, who wins £66,000 is up to 20th in the rankings, said: “Overall I am a bit disappointed. The best man won and you’ve got to face that. The scoring Ding produced was up there with anything that has ever been seen here. I knew the table was really nice and if I left him with chances he would punish me. I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t take all my chances, but the game isn’t that easy. Last night I should have been 13-11 which could have made a difference.
“The way Ding is playing, you’ve got to make him favourite. He has improved his match awareness. He takes his time and gets the job done. He’s a bit more economical with his game and doesn’t take on as many balls that are potentially damaging. That makes him a tough guy to play against as he doesn’t take many risks.
“Credit to China because they’ve put a lot of money into the game in terms of staging events and they’ve also got a really good amateur infrastructure. They are producing a lot of good players and the numbers are only going to increase.”