Friday, 30 March 2012

The final four in China

We're down to the semi-finals of this year's China Open - and there are four great players left to contest them.

An action-packed day in Beijing left us all salivating and it's not often one morning sees both Judd Trump and Ronnie O'Sullivan packing their suitcases ready to head home.

Neil Robertson and Ali Carter were also casualties.

But how about who's left...

Stephen Lee v Stephen Maguire

You don't have too look much further than this match to find two players right at the peak of their form.

Both have reached a major final since the turn of the year and Lee was the winner of the latest ranking event; they're both back playing at their authoritative best. When these two are on song, they're both a pleasure to watch.

The way they've both been playing has helped them earn their way to being many people's outside tips to win this year's World Championship.

This week has done little but strengthen those claims. Today, Lee recovered from 2-0 down to beat Trump 5-3 and Maguire enjoyed triumph over O'Sullivan in a match that went down to a final re-spotted black.

Seeing the back of two of the game's top names will only build on their confidence. The shackles are off, they're both playing well. They'll go for their shots and will both fancy their chances of making the final. This should definitely be the more glamorous of the two semi-finals. It's not one you'll want to miss.

Peter Ebdon v Ding Junhui

It's a decade since Ebdon enjoyed the greatest moment of his career winning the 2002 World Championship.

After a season fighting to even stay within the top 32 of the world rankings, I never thought I'd see him contest a major semi-final again; but here he is.

His results this week have been all down to his graft. Yesterday he pipped current world champion John Higgins on a decider and he followed that up today with another hard-fought win against Robertson, one of the most consistent players on this season's circuit.

Ebdon still has his critics but his ability to fight tooth and nail in matches have brought him huge success throughout his long career. Although his commitment to the game has probably waned over the past 18 months, he hasn't lost his ability to put in the methodical preparations ahead of certain tournaments, and perform.

This week has seen a return to his steely old self and, although some fingers have been pointed at his 'negative' tactics, Ebdon's knowledge of the table and determination remain assets to be admired.

His next task lies in the form of home favourite Ding Junhui. The Chinese star is a player Ebdon rates extremely highly. In fact, Peter goes to particular lengths to share how much he thinks of him as a player.

We should expect the same type of grafting performance from Ebdon as he attempts to keep Ding on a tight leash. The home hope is an excellent break-builder and, coupled with his new-found belief, will take some distracting from the job in hand.

Ding is always under pressure when he plays in China but confidence will be high now he's come this far and he can use his following to his advantage. The sheer size of challenge in front of Peter will rev him up and take him back to his glory days. This could be a classic.

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