Ding Junhui edged the battle of the qualifiers last night in a record-breaking battle, but missed out on a 147 maximum at the Betfred World Championship.
The Sheffield-based cueman leads Alan McManus 14-10 heading into this afternoon’s final session of their best-of-33 frames semi-final.
Both players have defied the odds to even reach the Crucible’s last four, but put on a stunning display of potting with nine centuries in their match so far. The previous World Championship record was eight.
But Ding, 29, was denied a maximum 147. He had already potted 15 reds, but was left with a tight angle on the final black and the chance was gone.
Ding started out leading 6-2 overnight, having scored four centuries in Thursday’s opening session.
Yesterday’s opening eight frames saw the amazing high scoring continue, Ding chalking up breaks of 138, 90 and 97, McManus replying with 107, 136 and 125.
McManus’s opening break saw him clip the blue, and on his first visit to the table Ding fired in a 138 break.
McManus made it back-to-back centuries when he pocketed a 107 clearance – the 71st century of the tournament ,which triggered a £25,000 donation to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in Sheffield, courtesy of sponsors Betfred.
And the Scotsman – decked out in tartan trousers and waistcoat – was back in the balls the next frame, but missed a difficult red down the cushion.
Ding needed no second invitation with a 90 clearance to move 8-3 in front, and he was gifted a chance in the next frame when McManus missed an ambitious long-range red.
The only surprise was Ding failed to complete another century break, snookering himself on the yellow after reaching 97. The 29-year-old was so comfortable, he even sat back down at the mid-session interval until he noticed McManus heading for the dressing room for a 15-minute break.
Both players are qualifiers – having won three matches just to reach the Crucible – and are looking to emulate Terry Griffiths (1977) and Shaun Murphy (2005) who are the only players to win the title after qualifying.
At 9-3, McManus – at 45, appearing in his first semi-final in Sheffield for 23 years – needed to frustrate Ding’s heavy scoring, and he reeled off four successive frames to go into last night’s third session trailing 9-7.
Twice Ding failed to pot a ball as McManus – the oldest since Ray Reardon in 1985 to appear in the last four – knocked in century breaks, equalling the Crucible record of eight 100s in a single World Championship match.
Last night’s session started with both players looking nervous. A spurned brown left McManus to reduce the deficit to 9-8 – winning five frames on the spin – and Ding was being tested.
But the former UK and Masters champion regained his composure to win the next three frames and open up a 12-8 lead.
He delivered an 80 break, then pounced when McManus missed a black off its spot, before going agonisingly close to that 147 clearance. He ended on 113.
The theme of the match saw Ding win frames in one visit, while McManus edged the longer exchanges, and so it continued as the Scot pulled successive frames back with breaks of 59 and 81.
But he missed a black, again, and Ding pounced with a 60 break to win the penultimate frame of the evening.
Ding – who moved to Sheffield from China as a teenager – pulled four frames clear when he cleaned up the colours to finish the night 14-10 ahead, needing just three frames to reach his first world final.
Marco Fu and Mark Selby resume their semi-final this morning locked at 8-8 after two gripping sessions.
World No 1 Selby enjoyed a 7-4 lead, but was pegged back by Hong Kong’s Fu, who even had to overcome a broken cue tip.
The 38-year-old levelled at 7-7 – with breaks of 135 and 114 – and was close to taking an 8-7 lead when he dislodged his tip while chalking it.
Both players left the arena to allow Fu the chance to repair his cue, and he showed no problems on his return as he completed an 81 break.
Selby scrambled to win the final frame of the afternoon to level at 8-8.