Ding Junhui, the first Chinese player to reach the last four at the snooker world championship, and English giantkiller Judd Trump will go into their final session tied at 12-12 in their semi-final.
Both 21-year-old Trump, an 80-1 outsider at the beginning of the tournament, but who started by ousting defending champion Neil Robertson, and Ding kept the spectators at the Crucible spellbound in their two sessions.
Ding said that he was trying not to let the expectations of millions back in China get on top of him.
“I think a lot of people are tuning in to watch, but I don’t want to think about that as the challenge is big enough as it is,” he said.
Ding, who had never performed well on four previous occasions prior to this edition in his adopted home of Sheffield, had trailed 5-3 overnight, but he dominated Friday’s first session, winning six of the eight frames to take a 9-7 lead.
However, Trump, who signaled he was a talent to be reckoned with by winning the China Open last month, came back in style in the evening session.
Trump, appearing for only the second time in the championship, went 10-7 down on the resumption of hostilities, but then won the next two as he finally rediscovered some of his potting fluency, before Ding edged 11-9 ahead.
However, Trump wouldn’t let the 24-year-old Chinese seize total control and he rattled off three frames in a row, including two successive century breaks, to move 12-11 ahead.
Ding — winner of the UK Championship and the Masters in his career — ensured that they would finish the day all square when he fired in a break of 87 to set up what should be a nailbiting climax.
Ding said that Trump was a tough opponent and his growing popularity could also prove to be a factor.
“He’s a nice boy. He has a lot of admirers and a lot of girlfriends, many in China,” Ding said. “I don’t know if he’s more popular than me [at the Crucible], you would have to ask him.”
In the other semi-final, two-time champion Mark Williams of Wales takes a 9-7 lead over Scotland’s triple world champion John Higgins into the final two sessions.
Williams maintained his two-frame advantage over Higgins and was the more fluent player, putting together the only two century breaks of the session.
However, Higgins, who this time last year was provisionally suspended over match-fixing claims that he was subsequently cleared of, fought back in gritty style to take the final two frames of the day to keep his hopes alive.
Irrespective of the outcome of their match, Williams, at the age of 36, will take over from Higgins as snooker’s world No. 1 for next season.