China’s Liang Wenbo ended the fairytale run of David Grace with a 6-4 victory to reach his first Betway UK Championship final.
A tense five-hour tussle in front of a packed York Barbican crowd saw Liang come from 4-2 down to win the last four frames, sealing victory after Grace passed up a golden chance to make it 5-5.
World number 29 Liang is into the second ranking final of his career and one win away from his first title having lost to Ronnie O’Sullivan at the 2009 Shanghai Masters. The 28-year-old will face Neil Robertson or Mark Selby over 19 frames tomorrow for the £150,000 top prize.
Liang is already assured of a debut at the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January as the £70,000 runner-up prize would be enough to leapfrog him into the world’s top 16. Michael White is the unlucky player to be knocked out of the elite – just as he was ahead of the World Championship last season.
Leeds cueman Grace had enjoyed a marvellous run to the semi-finals, having never previously been past the last 16 of a ranking event. Victory today would have made the world number 81 the lowest ranked ever UK Championship finalist, but instead the 30-year-old is forced to settle for £30,000, still his career biggest pay-day.
In the opening frame, Grace missed two relatively simple pots on the final pink, gifting it to his opponent. But the Yorkshireman fought back bravely to take the next three in a row with a top break of 52. Liang replied with a run of 110 in frame five, before Grace dominated the sixth to go 4-2 up.
With the magnitude of the occasion sinking in, errors crept into Grace’s game, and it was Liang who won three scrappy frames to move 5-4 ahead. The left-hander form the Heilongjiang province of northern China built a 54-0 lead in frame ten, then Grace clawed back 40 points and it came down to a safety battle on the green. Cheered on by his home fans, Grace knocked in excellent pots on the green and brown then added the blue to go 55-54 ahead. But his attempt on a straight pink to a centre pocket hit the far jaw, leaving Liang to pot pink and black for victory before leaping into the air to celebrate.
“I’m so happy. I was thinking of this match as a final, not a semi-final,” said Liang, whose biggest titles so far came at an Asian Tour event in 2013 and the World Cup in 2011 in a two-man team alongside Ding Junhui.
“I started the first frame very badly and couldn’t concentrate and my head was gone. In the mid-session my coach talked me to me and told me to relax and to control the table. I did well after that. If I can concentrate and stay strong in the final I will have a chance.”
Grace said: “It was a shocking miss on the pink in the last frame. It was just a twitch. I potted harder balls than that in the break and I thought I had done the hard work. Maybe I should have taken a few more seconds over it. I might have rushed it a little bit but there was no excuse for missing that.
“I was dead and buried and not even in the game. He was 50 in front and I did not have a chance for four frames. All of a sudden, I potted a good red in the middle and started rolling balls in down the cushion. I felt brilliant then and felt like I could pot anything.
“I’ve loved every single minute of it – just being involved in such a big tournament and going through all the rounds. I’ll still need plenty more results to stay on the tour but at least I have given myself a chance. It’s money like I’ve never seen before in my life and when that gets in my bank account it will be unreal.”