Ding Junhui will play Xiao Guodong in the first all Chinese world ranking event final ever staged at the Shanghai Masters on Sunday.
Xiao beat Michael Holt 6-3 in the first semi-final while Ding survived a bruising, hard fought match with Barry Hawkins 6-2.
Xiao becomes the fifth Asian player to reach a world ranking tournament final after James Wattana of Thailand, Marco Fu of Hong Kong, Ding and China’s Liang Wenbo.
An all Chinese final was unthinkable before the 2005 China Open in Beijing. I don’t think many people realise how close the whole China boom came to not happening.
The China Open had been staged for four seasons up until 2002 when financial problems at the WPBSA saw the circuit start to shrink.
Two executives soon to be dismissed by the WPBSA (despite being rather good) managed to cobble together a one year deal to resurrect the event in 2005. A stipulation was that the talented then 17 year-old Ding appear in the field, so he had to withdraw from the qualifiers and play instead as a wildcard.
Hence, he received no prize money and actually went down the rankings despite winning the title. It was a sensational achievement. He beat Fu, Peter Ebdon, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry and single-handedly sparked a surge in interest – from the public and, crucially, sponsors - which has led to five ranking events in China, plus plenty more playing opportunities and prize money for players.
Ding obviously starts favourite. He has displayed great patience this week, employing a formidable safety game in among some heavy scoring. His concentration has been exemplary.
But Xiao has also impressed. He doesn’t show many outward signs of pressure. When the chance came to beat Holt he did so with a century in the last frame.
China has been waiting a while for another major title contender. Liang has gone backwards since his appearance in the 2009 Shanghai final but Xiao’s emergence could be good news for Ding – taking the pressure of expectation off his shoulders so that it can be shared with someone else.
Ding has not won a major title in China since that Beijing win eight and a half years ago but he remains a world class talent whose best may yet be ahead of him.
Either way, it will be an historic day.