LONDON (AFP) - China's Ding Junhui was just one match away from becoming Asia's first world snooker champion after seeing off Alan McManus 17-11 in a semi-final win on Saturday.
The 29-year-old Ding reached his first World Championship final in record style, with a break of 123 completing a decisive victory over experienced Scottish cueman McManus at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre in northern England.
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 Mark Selby and Ronnie O'Sullivan.
His heavy scoring against McManus also included century breaks of 100, 131, 100, 128, 138 and 113, which all came amid contributions of 84, 62, 90, 97, 80 and 60.
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).
Snooker, thanks in large part to Ding's efforts, has become increasingly popular in China and there has long been a belief within the game that an Asian world champion will bolster efforts to increase snooker's global appeal beyond its traditional heartlands.
It was a point emphasised by five-times world champion O'Sullivan, who tweeted on Saturday: "I think if ding wins this worlds the flood gates could open, he cues so accurate and efficient."
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 number one in the world rankings 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.
Now he could yet find himself involved in an all-Asian final, with Hong Kong's Marcu Fu all square against former world champion Mark Selby in the other semi-final.
The match, which will be played to a finish later Saturday, was set up for an intriguing finale after Selby won a marathon 24th frame to draw level at 12-12.
Both Selby, world champion in 2014, and Fu struggled to hit top form in a stamina-sapping morning session after resuming at 8-8.
The 24th frame alone lasted one hour, 16 minutes and 11 seconds, the longest in Crucible history, topping the record of one hour and 15 minutes set by Stephen Maguire and Mark King in a 2009 second-round match.
World Snooker initially said the frame had lasted one hour, 14 minutes and 32 seconds - 28 seconds short of the record - but then added a toilet break taken by Selby should have been included in the total time.
Long though it was, Saturday's frame was still short of the world record of one hour, 40 minutes and 24 seconds set by McManus and England's Bary Pinches at October's Ruhr Open in Germany.