A dramatic victory for Stuart Bingham against Michael Holt this evening in Daqing completed a high-quality semi-final line-up at the 2016 International Championship. Below I round up some of the key headlines from what has so far been a tournament of the highest quality.
Four days down, three to go as the 68 players that started the week have been reduced to just four. Now into its sixth staging and second in Daqing, the event has now firmly established itself as one of the most significant on the World Snooker Tour, with the longest format matches seen outside of the World Championship and the most available prize money so far this season.
With the stakes so high then, it is perhaps no surprise to see a semi-final line-up containing the top three ranked players in the world, as well as Chinese number one Ding Junhui, who is already a tournament winner this season following his success in Shanghai. The signs were good for a high-quality event from the early stages of the event with two breaks of 145 compiled on the opening day, while there have now been 9 breaks of 130+ made so far, already a season’s best tally.
The last four
Turning to the semi-finals and the first two-session clash will be played tomorrow between Judd Trump and Ding Junhui, who meet for the first time since their World Championship quarter-final at the Crucible Theatre back in April. In fact their last two meetings in all competitions have both come at the World Championship, Trump emerging as a runaway 13-4 winner back in 2015, before Ding turned the tables 13-10 on his way to his first final this year.
So far this week Ding has already had to come through two deciders, firstly against Mitchell Mann in their held-over qualifying match from 5-2 down at one point, before later seeing off 2014 champion Ricky Walden at the quarter-final stages.
For Trump, his path has been a little more straight-forward, thanks to having made an impressive nine century breaks during the week so far, but he nevertheless had to come through a dramatic quarter-final 6-5 against Shaun Murphy today, decided only on the final black ball.
Both former winners of the event, it is difficult to call a winner but perhaps Judd enters the match as a slight favourite, given the scoring firepower that he has exhibited so far this week.
A day later and there will be a second semi-final meeting of the season between the world’s two top-ranked players, Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham.
Perhaps surprisingly given his relentless consistency over a number of years now, world number one Selby is yet to reach the final of this event, losing at the last four stage a year ago to eventual champion John Higgins. His toughest task so far this week was a 6-5 win against snooker’s most recent ranking event winner Liang Wenbo, a break of 69 proving decisive as his opponent broke down having earned the first chance.
Former world champion Stuart Bingham made smooth progress through the draw as he dropped just four frames up to his quarter-final match against Michael Holt, but despite opening up a 4-0 lead against the Hitman, he was made to sweat as their match was ultimately decided on the colours in a deciding frame. Notwithstanding his narrow escape, he has continued to look more like the player who enjoyed so much success during the 2014/15 season this week and remains well in contention to claim his fourth ranking event title.
As a bonus for Bingham, his victory against Holt, combined with defeat for Joe Perry against Mark Selby ensures that Stuart will take the 15th place at next month’s Champion of Champions place in Coventry. With just next week’s Evergrande China Championship to go, Joe Perry is in line to take the final position by just £50 from John Higgins on the one-year ranking list, unless of course there is a ‘new’ winner in Guangzhou.
Having won their recent semi-final in Shanghai, perhaps Selby enters the match as a narrow favourite but as with the first semi-finals, in truth it is very much a 50/50 call.
Earlier in the week, there was a notable achievement for the four wildcard players involved, as each won their opening match against a main tour player, something that I cannot recall having happened before at an event in China.
Most impressive was recent world under-21 champion Xu Si, who not only made an opening day break of 145 (matching the feat of defending champion Higgins), but also went on to defeat Mark Williams in the last 64, before losing out to Thai legend James Wattana in the following round.
Another key story is that defeat for Ricky Walden against Ding Junhui at the last 16 stage means that 2014 champion Walden will now drop outside of the world’s top 16 for the first time in four years, with the removal of the prize money earned by his victory two years ago from his ranking.
He will now be focused on putting a winning run together at one of the next two events to ensure that he will be back at next year’s Masters at the Alexandra Palace in January.
Already mentioned above, the run of James Wattana to the last 16 represented his strongest performance at a ranking event in over a decade, while the likes of Zhou Yuelong and Sam Baird scored impressive wins on their way to the last 16.
For Ronnie O’Sullivan, he came through tough opening matches against Kurt Maflin and Xiao Guodong, but fell to Michael Holt at the last 16 stage as the Riga Masters finalist became the first player since John Higgins back in 2009 to record three ranking event wins against O’Sullivan during a calendar year.
Speaking of Higgins, he impressed during the early rounds of his title defence in Daqing, but could do nothing to stop Ding Junhui today, the Chinese number one claiming six consecutive frames from 2-0 down.
The action continues tomorrow…