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Steven Paston The 29-year-old Ding reached his first World Championship final in record style.
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Ding to face Selby in World Championship final
The only two winners from beyond Britain and Ireland are Cliff Thorburn and Neil Robertson.

Updated at 12.40am

CHINA’S DING JUNHUI will face Mark Selby in the World Championship final on Sunday when he bids to become the first Asian player to win snooker’s most prestigious title.

The 29-year-old Ding reached his first World Championship final in record style, with a break of 123 completing a decisive 17-11 victory over experienced Scottish cueman Alan McManus at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in northern England on Saturday.

Later in the day, 2014 world champion Selby, the world number one, prevented an all-Asian final when he defeated Hong Kong’s Marco Fu 17-15.

Ding’s seventh century break of the semi-final saw him surpass the previous record of most centuries in a Crucible match (six) held jointly by Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“I feel peaceful at the moment, just like normal. I want to be excited but my heart tells me it’s like normal,” said Ding.

In the modern history of the World Championship, the only two winners from beyond Britain and Ireland are Canada’s Cliff Thorburn (1980) and Australia’s Neil Robertson (2010).

A sign of snooker’s increasing popularity in China is that, according to a tweet posted by World Snooker, 27.1 percent of the national television audience in the world’s most populous country tuned in to watch his semi-final on CCTV5, an official state broadcaster.

These were, in the words of the tweet, “incredible figures!” and an indication of snooker’s increasing appeal in Asia.

- ‘Blown up’ -

“There’s more and more supporters in China, it’s crazy like that. I want to stay away from that and keep calm,” Ding said.

“I’ve had a lot of messages. My phone’s almost blown up.”

The defeated McManus had no doubts that Ding could go all the way, saying: “I think there’s only one person stopping him and it’s himself. He’s favourite in my eyes and it’ll take a good performance to beat him.”

Ding has been tipped to become a world champion ever since he won the UK Championship, snooker’s second-most important title as an 18-year-old.

The 2013/14 season saw Ding match snooker great Stephen Hendry’s record of five ranking titles in a season and he rose to world number one in December 2014.

However, a severe loss of form saw Ding drop out of the world’s top 16 and meant he had to come through qualifying in order to gain a place in the main draw for this year’s World Championship.

Fu and Selby, from Leicester, central England, resumed Saturday at 8-8 and after a marathon 24th frame, won by the former champion in a Crucible record one hour 16 minutes and 11 seconds, they were still locked together at 12-12.

There was a controversial moment when Fu appeared to touch a red with his index finger early in the 27th frame when looking to play a safety shot.

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But referee Brendan Moore did not call a foul and Fu did not appear to realise his infraction.

“I haven’t got a clue which shot you’re talking about,” Fu said afterwards.

“I honestly can’t (couldn’t) feel it. I think it’s just when you’re focused it’s very tough.”

Selby took more than an hour to win the final frame of the contest and book his place in a final which starts on a day when his beloved Leicester City will look to claim the English Premier League football title with victory away to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

“For three sessions I was really poor,” said Selby, whose head-to-head career record with Ding stands at 10 wins apiece.

“When Marco was in, it looked like an art, and when I was in, it looked like a scribble,” added Selby, also the runner-up in 2007. “I’m just happy to get through.”

© AFP 2016

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