Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui are on a collision course at the BetVictor Welsh Open in Newport.
The world champion will play China’s no.1 in the final tomorrow if they can each first make it through the semi-finals today.
O’Sullivan brushed aside the challenge of a below par John Higgins on Friday while Ding was forced to come from 4-2 down to avoid a shock defeat at the hands of 19 year-old Joel Walker.
This was a fantastic match. Walker made a really excellent colours clearance in the fourth frame to make it 2-2 at the interval and then visibly grew in confidence as Ding, for once this season, started to get rattled.
At 4-2, Walker was playing well enough to complete victory but missed chances in the seventh frame. Winning this resettled Ding and he finished in classy fashion, with successive century breaks to come through 5-4.
Walker deserved credit for his performance but the ultimate result underlines just how tough a player Ding has become. He is now two wins away from landing a fifth ranking title this season.
Before any thoughts of the final he has Joe Perry to contend with this afternoon. Perry, also a semi-finalist in this season’s International Championship, was solid in beating Mark Selby 5-1 last night but will need to match Ding’s scoring today.
Perry won an Asian Tour title earlier this season but would obviously like to end his career having won a ranking event. To do this he will have to beat not just Ding but possibly O’Sullivan as well.
Standing in Ronnie’s way tonight is Barry Hawkins, the man he defeated to win a fifth world title last Spring.
Hawkins played to a really high standard in that final and his consistency means he will join the world’s top four at the end of the Welsh Open, regardless of the results this weekend.
O’Sullivan, though, remains serene. His safety was especially effective against Higgins and he did what he had to do. He has lost just one frame in each of his five matches so far but if the pressure came on would likely have plenty in the tank to cope.
An O’Sullivan-Ding final would be tasty. Perry and Hawkins will have to go some to prevent it happening.
BBC2Wales (and red button): 1-4.30pm; 7-9pm; 11.25pm-12.05am (GMT)
British Eurosport2: 1-4pm (GMT)
British Eurosport: 7-10pm (GMT)
Eurosport2: 3.30-5pm (CET)
Eurosport International: 6-8pm; 8-11pm (CET)
Photographs by Monique Limbos.