China’s 21-year-old Fan Zhengyi reached the semi-finals of a ranking event for the first time with a 5-3 victory over David Gilbert at the BetVictor European Masters.
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Meanwhile Graeme Dott edged out Ryan Day 5-4 in a tense finish to reach the 21st ranking event semi-final of his career and first since 2020. Dott and Fan will go head to head for a place in the final on Saturday from 1pm.
Fan first showed his potential when won the World Under-21 Championship in 2017, and he turned pro the following year. His first few seasons on the circuit have been a learning experience, but he has made a leap forward in the last few weeks, reaching his first ranking event quarter-final at last month’s BildBet German Masters, and now going one step further this week in Milton Keynes.
The talented potter could have the potential to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong, who have won multiple titles in recent years. This week’s run has already guaranteed him £17,500 and he is sure to leap up from his current world ranking of 80th.
Breaks of 56, 62 and 117 helped put him 4-0 up on world number 19 Gilbert. After the interval, the momentum changed as Fan missed chances to seal the match. Gilbert took a scrappy fifth frame then made a 98 for 4-2. In frame seven, Fan missed the last red to a baulk corner, playing with the long rest, when he led by 34 points. Gilbert battled back to steal the frame and raise his hopes of a fight back.
And the Englishman led 46-0 in the eighth, but Fan worked his way back into the frame, and eventually made a fine clearance from the last red, including an excellent shot on the blue to dislodge the pink from a side cushion.
“For the first four frames I wasn’t thinking about the match, I was just playing well,” said Fan, who is based in Sheffield and practises with the likes of Zhao and Yan. “Then after the interval I started thinking, and I got nervous and needed a lot of chances. But overall I really enjoyed the game and I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Scotland’s Dott, the 2006 World Champion, has struggled for form for much of this season and dropped to 47th in the rankings. But the 44-year-old’s game has clicked this week and he is just two wins away from his third professional title and first since 2007.
He had leads of 2-0, 3-2 and 4-3 over Day but couldn’t shake his opponent off and it came down to a decider in which both players had clear chances. Dott took the last two reds to lead by 28 points with just the colours left, and survived Day’s battle for snookers on the green and brown.
“It was the worst I have played this week,” said Dott, whose top break was just 49. “Sometimes you get matches like that where the balls go scrappy, and you just have to get the win. It wasn’t pretty. I never felt in control, even at 2-0. I made a lot of unforced errors which I need to cut out. Either of us could have won that match.
“I don’t want to end up one of the players who always says he’s playing well in practice, but I have been doing that, and I’m not producing it in matches. Even today it was hard not to be disappointed because I know I can play a lot better. I just had to accept it, try to win the match and hopefully play better tomorrow.
“There are so many good young Chinese players now, you could name ten, and probably miss out six or seven. It won’t be long before they are dominating. Fan will be so happy to be in the semis, he could play out of his skin. Or he could completely crumble – I’m hoping that’s the case!”