Ding Junhai sees off top teen to claim semi-final spot in Newport
DING Junhai showed nerves of steel to win his Sheffield showdown at the Newport Centre and end the fairytale for unheralded teenager Joel Walker.
Ronnie O’Sullivan claimed his heavyweight clash with John Higgins was like a meeting of Premier League giants Manchester City and Chelsea but Ding v Walker was a Steel City derby.
World number 84 Walker, born and bred in the Yorkshire city, was a 300-1 shot to win the BetVictor Welsh Open at the start of the tournament but he was within a frame of beating Sheffield resident Ding and claiming a place in the last four.
The 19-year-old, who knocked out defending champion Stephen Maguire on Thursday, led the 2012 champ 4-2 and missed several good chances to clinch a famous win that would have more than doubled his career prize money at a stroke.
But the Chinese star showed his true class to fight back and seal his semi-final place, clinching victory with back-to-back century breaks of 139 and 104.
Having won the German Masters earlier this month, Ding needs one more ranking title this season to equal the record of five set by Stephen Hendry in 1990/91.
“Joel played well and I had to keep fighting very hard,” said the world number three.
“I saw a little bit of his match against Maguire and saw that he was playing well and maybe I got lucky. He missed a couple of balls in the last few frames and I got the chance.
“I knew when he was 4-2 up that he was going to have a big pressure on himself and maybe start missing.
“I had concentration in the last few frames because I won one and that was more pressure on him.
“I used my experience and I always thought I could come back to win it. I’m playing well in the deciding frames.”
A disappointed Walker said: “I had chances to win 5-2 but fell awkward twice. It was a great week, a great crowd and an amazing experience. I can’t wait for more.
“Fair play to Ding, he took his chances in the last two. That’s why he’s one of the best.”
Ding had words of comfort for his opponent, suggesting the pair may practice together back at the Sheffield World Snooker Academy.
“He’s playing well and he could have gone the extra step today,” said Ding. “He had chances that he didn’t take but I hope he keeps getting better.
“He’s from Sheffield and I will practice with him now because he is a good player.”
In the top of the table clash O'Sullivan breezed past his old rival Higgins, winning 5-1.
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