Ding is yet to reach a ranking event final this season
Ding Junhui is through to the quarter-finals of the Betfred World Championship for only the third time thanks to an impressive 13-9 win over John Higgins.
China’s top player Ding has 11 ranking titles to his name but a surprisingly poor record in snooker’s biggest event, having reached the semi-finals just once – in 2011 – and suffered six defeats in the first and second rounds.
The world number three looked likely to suffer another early exit when he trailed four-time champion Higgins 5-1 in the early stages, but he hit back to win 12 of the next 16 frames to score one of his best Crucible wins.
Ding has had a quiet season – winning just one title at the Yixing Open Asian Tour event last June – but he showed signs of a return to form at the recent China Open with a run to the semi-finals. The 28-year-old now meets Judd Trump or Marco Fu on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Hopefully I’m going to win the tournament,” said Ding. “I believe I can win any tournament, it just takes time. I’m playing well, I keep scoring heavily and I’m winning some of the big frames. When I was 5-1 down I just thought about getting one frame back at a time. It’s a long match and I can’t fully focus in every frame, every ball, but I played a lot of great frames.
“It’s always a big victory to win against John, it’s not easy to play him in such a long match – you need to keep up your performance all the way until the match finishes. Even in the last frame he still had chances. I don’t mind who I play next.”
Wishaw’s Higgins trailed 9-7 going into the final session and had a chance to halve the gap in the first frame today, but missed the black on 40. Ding made a brilliant 63 clearance highlighted by a slow-rolled pot on the last red to a baulk corner. The Sheffield-based cueman added the next in three scoring visits to lead 11-7.
Higgins pulled one back with a 94 and led 38-0 in the next, only for Ding to made another excellent clearance – this time 89 – to lead 12-8 at the interval.
Former UK and Masters champion Ding might have sealed victory in frame 21 but missed pink to centre on 54, and later the final pink when he needed the last two balls. Higgins took pink and black to keep his hopes alive.
But Ding built a 52-8 lead in the next and eventually crossed the winning line after Higgins missed the pink off the last red.
Higgins said: “I let him off the hook when I was 5-1 in front. From then on he was clinical, he never let his head drop and he played good stuff. He reminds you of Steve Davis in his prime, with his cue ball control.
“He makes everything look ridiculously easy and he made a couple of pressure clearances, which probably means he’s ready to win the world title. I hope he plays Anthony McGill in the final, obviously I’d be rooting for Ants to win, but otherwise I’d love to see Ding win it.
“He seems in a better frame of mind, as if he’s ready to tough it out. His all-round game and safety play are top notch as well. He has grown-up, he’s smiling more, he’s more at ease within himself, he’s a big, big danger to win this tournament.
“My concentration in the last session was very poor. I felt good when I got in the balls but I kept missing on 40 or 50 and I ended up losing those frames, and you just can’t afford to do that against the top boys.”
Mark Allen is 9-7 ahead of Barry Hawkins going into tonight’s conclusion, after sharing the second session 4-4. A high quality session included three consecutive century breaks and the contest finished nicely poised.
Hawkins, the 2013 runner-up, won three of the first five frames today with breaks of 92, 108 and 131, while Allen replied with 55 and 115. Northern Irishman Allen took the next by potting the blue after Hawkins had got the snookers he needed, then a run of 81 from Allen put him 9-6 up. But Kent-based Hawkins nicked the last of the session thanks to a clever cross-double on the final blue and a cracking pot on the pink. They resume at 7pm.
Hawkins and Allen could go to the wire tonight