The Betfred World Championship’s great underachiever Ding Junhui became China’s first Crucible finalist on a dramatic day in Sheffield.Ding will tackle the toughest nut to crack in snooker after Leicester’s Mark Selby came through a 17-15 winner against Hong Kong Marco Fu.On Sunday, as his beloved Leicester City bid to win the Premier League title against Manchester United at Old Trafford, Selby will be beginning his third World Championship final.
He lost out to John Higgins in 2007 but beat Ronnie O’Sullivan to swipe the trophy in 2014, and after squashing the prospect of an all-Asian final it will be Selby standing in the way of record-breaker Ding.Having come through qualifying this year, after a drastic dip in form, Ding maintained his momentum with a 17-11 semi-final victory over Scottish veteran Alan McManus in which he made seven centuries, the first time that feat has been achieved at the Crucible.
A satisfied Ding, who in nine previous visits to snooker’s premier event had reached only one semi-final, insisted he would not contemplate any celebrations until he gets his hands on the trophy.Before Ding’s masterclass, the record in Sheffield stood at six centuries in a match, achieved by Selby and O’Sullivan, but the 29-year-old rewrote that entry in the history books while becoming Asia’s first World Championship finalist, a landmark moment for the sport.
His tons in the match were 100, 131, 100, 128, 138, 113 – missing the 15th black of a 147 attempt – and 123, and in a startling run of scoring he also fired breaks of 84, 62, 90, 97, 80 and 60.”I feel peaceful at the moment, just like normal. I want to be excited but my heart tells me it’s like normal,” Ding said.”The tournament hasn’t finished yet, it’s still going on and the last match starts tomorrow at two o’clock, so I want to stay focused.”
Glasgow cueman McManus is confident Ding can carry off the title.”He’s favourite in my eyes and it’ll take a good performance to beat him,” McManus said.The famous arena was gripped by fresh drama and controversy as Selby and Fu battled it out in the evening.Fu appeared to touch a red with his index finger early in the 27th frame when bridging to play a safety shot.Referee Brendan Moore spotted nothing amiss, and Fu showed no sign of having noticed he nudged the ball.
But replays indicated the ball moved and that was immediately spotted by commentator John Parrott, the 1991 world champion: “That’s a foul there. The red definitely moved there.”It’s not been called but that’s a foul. It’s his finger (that) moves the red. Referee’s missed it, so has the player.”He moves it forward, touches the red, and it’s a foul. Bit surprised both of them missed it.”Six-time world champion Steve Davis found it hard to believe Fu would not have noticed he touched the ball.
“I think everybody in the world of snooker probably would suspect you could have felt that,” Davis said. “There’s no way of getting out of that, that you probably did feel it.”Stephen Hendry, seven times a world champion, added: “You don’t want to start pointing fingers at people or anything but you know when you’ve touched it, you’ve got nerves in your finger and you know when you’ve touched something.”You can only say perhaps Marco’s engulfed in the situation, there’s so much tension out there.”
Having resumed the evening session tied at 12-12, Selby found it a struggle to shake off Fu’s close attention, which was perhaps no surprise given how keenly fought the contest was.The final frame of the day’s opening session between the pair had lasted a draining one hour, 16 minutes and 11 seconds. That made it the longest in tournament history.Selby and Fu took an hour over the closing frame of the match too, ratcheting up the tension even further, before it went the way of the man hoping for a double title celebration this Bank Holiday weekend.
Fu insisted he had no recollection of the incident where he looked to have brushed the red, saying: “I haven’t got a clue. My coach just told me that the commentators were saying I touched a red with my finger but I didn’t really feel it. I haven’t got a clue which shot you’re talking about.”I honestly can’t feel it. I think it’s just when you’re focused it’s very tough.”
Selby admitted he rode his luck in the match.”For three sessions I was really poor,” Selby said.”When Marco was in, it looked like an art, and when I was in, it looked like a scribble.”I’m just happy to get through.”There’s still a long way to go yet, another two long days. It would be fantastic if I won it again but to get to the final is a fantastic achievement. Hopefully it’s not stopping there.”