Yan Bingtao showed excellent resolve to complement his quality potting as he claimed a thrilling 6-5 win over Stephen Maguire to book his place in the semi-finals of the Masters.
After starting brightly to take the opening two frames, Yan looked in all sorts of trouble as Maguire wrestled control of the match.
However, he stroked in an 84 to take the sixth frame after his opponent had missed a simple red and it galvanised him to dig in and claim a win which was completed by a stunning break of 141 - the highest of the tournament and of his professional career - in the final frame to set up a meeting with Stuart Bingham in the last four.
Northern Ireland Open
Maguire, Bingham and Bingtao all open with wins in Belfast
Yan has an excellent record against his semi-final opponent Bingham, winning their three most recent meetings.
‘Hello! He is not done yet!’ – Yan ‘magics up’ brilliant red to seal career-high break
At the Wales Open last year, Yan won a thrilling final-frame decider and he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“I played him a few times, I played him at the 2020 Wales Open and won the final frame,” Yan told Eurosport. "I will relax and enjoy."
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Yan made a bright start after Maguire left a red in the jaws of the right corner pocket, but he broke down when fouling the pink in taking on a plant - which did not look on. His opponent looked set to take advantage but he ran out of position when attempting to get from red to black with his break on 30, and Yan stepped in to knock in an excellent long red to seal the frame.
Maguire built up a big lead in the second but failed to convert it into a frame-winning contribution and the Scot was made to pay a heavy price. Yan picked off a couple of terrific long reds, the second of which allowed him to clear and steal the frame.
The third frame was extremely scrappy, with both players struggling with their potting and the colours dropping into awkward positions. Maguire was able to nose in front and a couple of excellent safety shots helped him get on the scoreboard.
Having looked in good touch in the opening two frames, the third seemed to unsettle Yan as he missed a simple blue at the start of the fourth. The young Chinese player does not often show emotion, but he went back to his chair and bounced his cue on the floor. It’s difficult to believe he has missed an easier ball all season, and he was made to pay as Maguire stepped forward to knock in a 102 - the highest frame of the session - to draw level at the interval.
Fluke or not? Maguire notches three-ball plant
Breaks of 49 and 29 in the first frame after the interval were enough to move Maguire ahead for the first time in the match.
Maguire looked in silky touch as he stroked in a rapid 42 at the start of the sixth, but he missed a red into the right middle - and rammed his fist down on the table in frustration. The Scot was furious as he stomped back to his chair, aware he had his opponent cold and in real trouble.
Yan rose from his chair for an unlikely opening, and potted his first ball for 38 minutes. He produced a couple of superb reds into blind pockets and a break of 84 levelled it up at 3-3.
World number 11 Yan got in the balls again in the seventh and was on a break of 50 when he badly miscued on the green to hand the table to Maguire. The Scot stepped up but did not look fully composed as he attempted a red and it did not drop.
As he walked back to his chair, Maguire threatened to turn his cue into a javelin - Jan Zelezny's world record of 98.48 metres could have been under threat had he let go - and his mood would not have been improved as Yan stepped in to clear and take the frame.
To his credit, Maguire shrugged off the upset of the previous couple of frames to produce a brilliant break of 137.
Maguire went from the sublime to the ridiculous when he got to the table in the ninth. After Yan had broken down on 31, the Scot had the choice of a tight swerve or a long, difficult red. He went for the latter and missed by a long way to hand the advantage to his opponent who converted to move within one frame of victory at 5-4.
As good as players are at the top level of the game, fortune can play a huge part. Maguire got a huge dollop of it in the 10th as he was in trouble at the baulk end and went for an audacious plant into the left corner pocket.
The red did not drop and balls flew all around the table, clattering into each other, and one dropped into the middle. He offered his hand up to Yan by way of an apology, but that was scant consolation to his opponent as Maguire mopped up to force a decider.
Seeing his opponent benefit from such an outrageous fluke would have hurt Yan, but it did not appear to bother him as he stepped to the table in the final frame and crafted a brilliant 141 to seal his place in the semi-finals and put him in line for the £15,000 prize for the highest break of the tournament.
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