Tomorrow, in Guangzhou, the final will be Mark Selby v John Higgins, as both experienced and prolific tournament winners got the better of their young talented opponents.
The table had been recovered and played much faster than it had all week.
John Higgins played much better in those conditions, closer to what he’s used to than the heavy/sticky conditions that he faced earlier in the week. Lyu Haotian on the contrary was really struggling with the pace of the table and for most of the match couldn’t get control over the cue ball. It’s only towards the end of the match, far too late, that the young Chinese was able to settle a bit and do his talent some justice. That said, John Higgins was still not at his best.
Scotland’s 43-year-old Higgins will face Mark Selby or Zhao Xintong in Sunday’s final, with the winner to bank £150,000.
Higgins will be playing in the 49th ranking final of his career and aiming for his 31st title. His most recent came at the Welsh Open in March.
World number four Higgins has been far from his best this week, failing to make a century in the tournament so far. But his matchplay skills and gritty determination have carried him all the way to the final.
He built a 5-1 lead today with top breaks of 57, 57 and 59. China’s 20-year-old Lyu, who had hoped to reach his first ranking final, pulled two frames back, before Higgins sealed the result with a run of 62 in the ninth.
”The conditions today were beautiful, having been difficult earlier in the week,” said Higgins. “That threw Lyu just a bit more than me, he was hitting everything thick because the table was so reactive.
“If Lyu had played today the same way he did in the quarter-finals I would have been in for a really tough game. But luckily for me he wasn’t at his best and I just picked up the pieces. I don’t know how I’m in the final but obviously I’m delighted.
“It looked as if it might go 5-4 at the end but I made a good break, that was the most pleasing thing of the match for me. If I play Mark Selby in the final then I’ll be a big under-dog, the way I’m playing.”
Lyu said: “I missed some easy balls early on and struggled to get position throughout the match. I need to learn a lot from top players like Higgins because they stay in the match and turn it around when things are not going well.”
Mark Selby played well from the start in his semi finals, whilst Zhao Xintong needed more time to settle. Mark Selby lead 4-1, before being pegged back at 4-4 and 42-42 in the 9th frame. This seems to be a pattern with Zhao: Mark Williams was 3-1 up at the MSI before losing 5-3 and Barry Hawkins lead 3-1 and 4-2, before losing 5-4. But this time it wasn’t to be for Zhao as the World n°1 stopped the rot and finished the job 6-4.
China’s 21-year-old Zhao had knocked out the likes of Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins to reach his first ranking semi final, and he looked in with a chance of continuing his run when he came from 4-1 down to 4-4 against Selby. But experience paid off for world number one Selby as he took the last two frames.
The Leicester cueman will face John Higgins in Sunday’s final, with the winner to earn £150,000. Selby is chasing his 15th career ranking title, and victory in the final would give him a fifth ranking crown in China within the past two years.
Tomorrow’s clash will be a repeat of the World Championship finals of 2007 (won by Higgins) and 2017 (won by Selby).
Breaks of 90 and 82 helped Selby build a 4-1 lead today. Zhao made a 110 in getting back to 4-4, but Selby crucially took a scrappy ninth frame then sealed victory in the next with a run of 63.
”I played well for most of the match, then I missed a red to a centre pocket at 4-1 and the match turned,” said Selby after reaching his 24th ranking final. “Zhao put me under pressure and played some good safety.
”John Higgins is a phenomenal player so it will be a very tough final. I will just enjoy it and try my hardest.”
If both play like they did today, Mark Selby should win tomorrow. Mark however was looking tired at times, and previously admitted that he didn’t sleep well. Today he made some uncharacteristic mistakes, including touching a red with his cue whilst trying to judge angles for his next shot. Best of 19 over two sessions is quite demanding and fatigue, if any, could become a decisive factor.