Tagged the tournament favourite after defending world champion Mark Selby and five-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan suffered early exits, the Crucible draw seemed to open for Ding.
But the 31-year-old – who lives in Sheffield – slumped to a 13-5 quarter-final defeat to world No 6 Barry Hawkins, to leave his quest to be Asia’s first world champion in tatters.
“I believe I can still win this one day,” said Ding. “I’ll always keep up my hopes and I’ll never give up.
“I’m a sportsman, I can’t give up.
“I missed too many chances in and around the black ball area. My position wasn’t good. I didn’t put enough pressure on Barry and he punished me heavily.
“Some days you play well, some days are different. I tried to play well and score heavily but what can I say? It wasn’t working out there.
“Barry’s got enough experience here. He’s got a good record here and he’ll have a lot of confidence to go on and win it.”
Indeed, Hawkins is something of a Crucible specialist, having reached the semi-finals five times out of his last six visits.
Not even defending champion Selby has won more matches in Sheffield in that spell, 18 since 2013, and Hawkins swiftly turned his overnight 11-5 lead into victory – finishing with a 117 break – and a semi-final today against Mark Williams.
The performance was in stark contrast to Ding’s second-round victory over Anthony McGill – where he raced into an 8-0 lead with some flawless snooker.
Hailed the ‘Yorkshire Dragon’ by MC Rob Walker on his entrance to the Crucible arena, there was little fire left in Ding.
“I felt like he gave up in the end, his body language suggested that he didn’t fancy the job today,” admitted Hawkins.
“It was important for me to get it over and done with because a lot of funny things can happen in this place.
“I’ve got to give myself credit. I put him under pressure, and he wasn’t used to that in this tournament so far.
“Even though I’m playing well now, I know how easy it is to have a bad couple of sessions and before you know it you’re going home.
“I can’t get too carried away because I know exactly what can happen.
“I’m in the semis, there will be only four of us left, and I’ve got a chance.”
Hawkins is looking to go one better than 2013 – when he lost to O’Sullivan – and the 39-year-old is joined in the semi-finals by Kyren Wilson, who thrashed Mark Allen 13-6.
Wilson – who had lost in the quarter-finals on his last two visits – gained small revenge for his January defeat to Northern Ireland’s Allen in the Masters final.
“I definitely wouldn’t say it was the biggest win of my career, [but] it’s up there,” he said. “It was always a goal of mine to reach the one-table set-up and I just can’t wait to get out there and experience it.
“You have to sometimes seize on your opponent when you sense a little bit of weakness and I could feel that Mark was maybe struggling a little bit towards the end of last night, so every little mistake that he made I felt like I punished it and played really well.”
Wilson will face four-time winner John Higgins, after the 42-year-old emerged a 13-12 winner over Judd Trump, after an absorbing contest.
Two-time world champion Williams set up a last-four clash with Hawkins by beating Ali Carter 13-8. It is the 43-year-old Welshman’s first semi-final since 2011.