DING JUNHUI gave himself a real chance of claiming a record-equalling fifth ranking title of the season by reaching the final of the BetVictor Welsh Open on Saturday.
The 26-year-old from China took his record in major ranking events this season to an astonishing 39 wins out of 41 matches with a 6-4 victory over Joe Perry at the Newport Centre.
World No3 Ding has got into a winning habit, and it is helping him out of trouble when under severe pressure, as he was both against Perry and teenager Joel Walker in the quarter-finals.
He has already lifted the trophy at the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open, International Championship and German Masters.
And Ding will now have the opportunity over the best of 17 frames to claim another prize and match Stephen Hendry’s 1990-91 tally in south Wales and pocket the £60,000 winner’s cheque.
Ding made two centuries, and his run of 118 to seal victory was almost Alex Higgins-esque, running out of position on several occasions but recovering with a series of brilliant pots.
He said: “Most of the season I have been winning, it gives you big confidence even when the score is close in a match. I am handling the pressure well, and not making mistakes.
“It really started from the Shanghai Masters for me, I used to find it difficult in China with the expectation and didn’t play well but winning there for the first time really helped me.
“The last clearance, I had a bit of trouble controlling the white and may have to do better in the final. I had to take a few greens and browns, and would like to make it easier for myself.”
World No15 Perry, though extremely disappointed after missing out on only a second ranking final, was still generous in his recognition of Ding’s outstanding campaign.
The 39-year-old said: “I played pretty well, but just took on a couple I shouldn’t have, all you can do is try your absolute best. I missed a couple but it happens, he is a super player and if you make a mistake you get punished.
“His clearance at the end was unbelievable, he had a bit to do but when he found the plant and freed the black I thought that was it. It was horrible to watch, he was out of position but found fantastic pot after fantastic pot. I’d have rather he mopped up effortlessly like he usually does.
“It shows his class. I never thought I would see any player dominate snooker like he is at the moment, it is as close as you are likely to see.
“It is incredible, it is routine for him, winning quarters and semis. Here he has won 5-4 and now 6-4 and it all stems from the season he is having. It is an incredible achievement. He is not worried about winning at the death under pressure.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos