Neil Robertson had no problem getting in the right frame of mind on the opening day of the Champion of Champions event in Milton Keynes despite admitting the amount of frames left him toiling for maximum concentration.
The defending champion compiled breaks of 139, 104, 62 and 56 on his way to usurping Ding Junhui in the Group One decider by edging the final two frames of the match after the UK champion had restored parity at 4-4 from 4-2 down.
Ding opened with a 93 and also made 51 in the eighth frame, but Robertson felt he should have put the contest to bed earlier with victory on the black in the ninth frame a pivotal moment in the match.
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“It’s quite early in the season and we aren’t used to playing two matches in one day with the best of seven in the afternoon and a best of 11 in the evening, that’s quite a lot of snooker to play. I think at times I just drifted in and out of concentration," said Robertson, who could face Mark Selby or Kyren Wilson in the semi-finals on Friday night.
“I made a couple of centuries in the match and a couple of other breaks and looked good in among the balls, but just allowed some frames to drag on a little bit.
“I missed a couple of tricky reds to the middle where I would have killed the frames off much earlier and we should probably be talking about winning the game 6-2.
“Ding fought back in a lot of the frames and won some on the colours, so I had to hold my nerve a little bit, especially with that black at 4-4 which I had to play with a lot of pace. I’m really pleased with how I finished it off out there.
“I have a great record in this event, won it twice and this will be my fifth semi-final. I love this tournament, all the players do and to be defending champion and get to the semi-finals is a really good defence so far," added Robertson, who produced an epic 10-9 win over world number one Judd Trump in last year's final.
Robertson had enjoyed a 4-0 win over World Seniors champion Jimmy White earlier in the day by running in knocks of 101, 115, 81 and 59 as the six-times world finalist toiled for form in contributing only 31 points.
Ding somehow scrambled past four-times world champion John Higgins, who looked in peak form earlier in their match.
2016 winner Higgins rolled in 69 and 111 – his 800th competitive century – on his way to a 2-0 lead, but missing a tricky red in the third frame saw Ding recover from 48-0 behind as runs of 51 and 67 allowed him to level at 2-2.
A 61 helped Higgins move 3-2 clear only for his opponent to make 77 in bringing matters level at 3-3.
Higgins looked poised for victory in the seventh frame, but missed a tricky black off its spot on 51 as Ding dished up the final three red and colours to the pink to complete an unlikely win.
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