Teenage talent Luca Brecel came from 3-0 down to beat Ricky Walden 5-3 and reach his first ranking event semi-final at the BetVictor Welsh Open.
Belgium’s 19-year-old Brecel will meet John Higgins for a place in the final of the £300,000 event in Cardiff, while Mark Williams will face Ben Woollaston, who also got through to his first ranking semi thanks to a 5-2 defeat of Gary Wilson.
Tipped for stardom in 2012 when he became the youngest player to compete at the Crucible and reached the quarter-finals of the UK Championship, Brecel has taken another two years to make his next breakthrough. He readily admits he failed to dedicate himself to practice during that period, but he is now reunited with influential coach Chris Henry, and taking strides towards fulfilling his huge potential.
World number nine Walden, the highest ranked player in the quarter-finals, looked comfortable in the early stages tonight as he won the first three frames with a top break of 98. But the Chester cueman missed a succession of easy pots in the remainder of the contest as his young opponent grew in confidence.
Brecel nicked the fourth frame then took the fifth with a run of 72. Walden had chances in the next but missed the last red and later failed on a thin cut on the final blue. When Brecel potted blue, pink and black, the momentum was firmly behind him. A quickfire break of 90 put him 4-3 ahead.
Frame eight came down to the last red, and a poor safety from Brecel appeared to give Walden the opportunity to force a decider. But he went in-off in potting the red, and Brecel cleared to the pink for victory.
“It’s a dream to get to the semi-finals, I still can’t believe it,” said world number 66 Brecel, who knocked out World Champion Mark Selby yesterday. “It was tough at the beginning as I wasn’t relaxed. but once I had won my first frame I felt it would be tough for him to win another one because I felt so confident. When I’m behind I seem to find my best form, I’ve done that a lot of times in my career.
“A couple of months ago I would have lost that match. Now I’m much more confident in my own ability and when I get chances I feel I’m going to take them. Mentally, snooker is a very tough game at this level, so I needed to sharpen that side and Chris Henry has helped me a lot. I never go into a match just to enjoy it – I believe I can win.”
Leicester’s 27-year-old Woollaston, whose only previous ranking quarter-final was at the 2013 Players Championship, came from 2-1 down to win four frames in a row against Wilson with top breaks of 52 and 58.
“It’s a special moment – it wasn’t the best of games tonight but just to win was the main thing,” said Woollaston. “If I had played Neil Robertson I probably would have been less tense because I would have known I had to play really well. Gary can play better than he did tonight and so can I. It was a big occasion for both of us and luckily I was a bit better on the day. My safety was a bit better than his and maybe I was prepared to win ugly more than him. Playing badly affected him more.
“This is the best moment of my career so far because it’s the semi-finals of a big ranking event in the UK. Mark Williams will have all the support tomorrow, it will be the whole of Wales against me. But I’ll love that and I’ll be trying my best to upset them.”