Ding Junhui reached his first Betfred World Championship final in record-setting style but insisted there would be no celebrations until he gets his hands on the trophy.
Chinese snooker’s flag-bearer fired his seventh century of the semi-final, a classy 123, and completed a 17-11 victory over Scottish veteran Alan McManus on Saturday afternoon.
Before Ding’s masterclass, the record in Sheffield stood at six centuries in a match, achieved by Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan, but he has rewritten that entry in the history books while becoming Asia’s first World Championship finalist, a landmark moment for the sport.
His earlier tons in the match were 100, 131, 100, 128, 138 and 113, and in a startling run of scoring he also fired breaks of 84, 62, 90, 97, 80 and 60.
“I feel peaceful at the moment, just like normal. I want to be excited but my heart tells me it’s like normal,” Ding said.
“The tournament hasn’t finished yet, it’s still going on and the last match starts tomorrow at two o’clock, so I want to stay focused.”
Ding’s time has finally come in Sheffield, where he has a home and lives for a large part of the year. The 29-year-old has been tipped to dominate snooker since his teenage years.
He won the UK Championship at the age of 18 and in 2013/14 matched Stephen Hendry’s record of five ranking titles in a season, becoming world number one in December 2014.
A drastic dip in fortunes saw him recently slide outside the top 16, meaning he had to go through qualifying for this tournament.
But winning three preliminaries bolstered his confidence for an assault on the event in which he has previously underachieved.
Growing up in Yixing, a city renowned for its clay teapots and bamboo forests, Ding dreamt of winning snooker trophies.
“In the first few years of playing snooker I didn’t really know about the World Championship because they didn’t show this tournament much on TV in China,” he said.
“The first dream was to win any tournament, then after turning professional in 2003 I wanted to win the World Championship title.
“There’s more and more supporters in China, it’s crazy like that. I want to stay away from that and keep calm.
“I’ve had a lot of messages. My phone’s almost blown up.”
Glasgow cueman McManus said: “Overall I’m disappointed. The best man won and you’ve got to face that.
“The scoring Ding produced was up there with anything that’s ever been seen here. He was pretty hot. I expected that.
“I’m a bit disappointed I didn’t take all my chances. I felt like I was really going to give him a game because I felt good but it didn’t come to pass.”
McManus is confident Ding can carry off the title, with Selby and Hong Kong’s Marco Fu vying to join him in the final, resuming on Saturday evening tied at 12-all.
“I think there’s only one person stopping him and it’s himself. He’s favourite in my eyes and it’ll take a good performance to beat him,” McManus said.
Selby summoned all his battling qualities to win a record marathon frame and draw level in his backbreaking semi-final against Fu.
The final frame of the session lasted a draining one hour, 16 minutes and 11 seconds. That made it the longest in tournament history, surpassing the record of one hour and 15 minutes that Stephen Maguire and Mark King set in their 2009 second-round match.
They spent a bedevilling 22 minutes on the yellow alone, before Selby took charge and, to his relief, squared the match.
World Snooker initially said the frame had lasted one hour, 14 minutes and 32 seconds - 28 seconds short of the record - but then stated a toilet break that Selby took should have been included in the time.
A re-rack was also not counted in the official frame time, with the pair having elected to start again after they initially ran to a halt after four minutes.