DING JUNHUI breathed a huge sigh of relief after narrowly avoiding an embarrassing exit at the BetVictor Welsh Open on Friday.

The world No3, going for an astonishing fifth ranking title of the season, trailed Sheffield teenager Joel Walker 4-2 at the Newport Centre.

Walker, 19, in his first ranking-event quarter-final at the £300,000 tournament, had impressive runs of 78, 74 and 101 but the 300-1 shot missed chances to close out the match when gtwo up with three to play.

And he never got a better opportunity, as China’s No1 drew on his experience to roar back and reach the semi-finals with back-to-back century breaks, edging through 5-4.

Ding, 26, has already lifted the trophy this season at the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open, International Championship and German Masters.

He said: “Joel played really well out there, and I had to play very well to come through in the end. I am sorry for him that he lost.

“I saw a bit of his match when he beat Stephen Maguire the round before, and he could have won but for a couple of misses today, especially one red at 4-2 up.

“I wasn’t comfortable out there early on, there were a lot of kicks and strange bounces off the cushions but I always keep fighting.

“I am playing well in deciding frames this season, and that is a big difference. When I get a chance, then most of the time I clear up.

“I knew Joel would start to feel some pressure at 4-2 ahead, and I just kept my concentration. Winning that frame to go 4-3 just piled more pressure on him.

“But he is playing well and today was another big step for him in his career. He will be sad because he was so close to winning.

“He is from Sheffield, where I am based, and I am sure I will practice more with him after today.”

World No84 Walker was picked out by Ronnie O’Sullivan to win a snooker ‘Pot Idol’ talent competition at 16 – and hailed as a “future world champion” by the Rocket.

Walker said: “I have to learn to finish it when the chance is there, as it was at 4-2. I still think I would have won with a good chance after that, but never really got one.

“But though this is really disappointing to lose, I have to be pleased overall with my week and my best display at a ranking tournament.”

Photographs by Monique Limbos