Alan McManus might be 45 years old but he is producing the snooker of his life to just about hang on in his record-breaking Betfred World Championship semi-final with Ding Junhui as he trails 14-10 following last night’s third session.
McManus has repeatedly been knocked down but not knocked out in the last-four clash at Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre, as he continually bounces back.
He trailed Ding 9-3 and 12-8 yesterday and, as a heavy underdog, it would have surprised nobody if the oldest World Championship semi-finalist since Ray Reardon in 1985 had folded.
Instead, he dug in, gritted his teeth and fought back time and time again to, as the repeated standing ovations from the Crucible crowd will tell you, win over the hundreds in attendance and millions watching round the world.
With 17 frames the target for victory, the plucky Glaswegian’s fairytale is well and truly alive heading into the final session which gets underway at 2:30pm today.
Both players have been consistently magnificent to the extent that there is a legitimate statistical argument to suggest this is the greatest match in World Championship history – the nine centuries recorded between the two men, more than any other at the Crucible Theatre.
To his credit, Ding has been the compiler of the majority of those, accruing six tons in total which equals the individual record by any player in a match at the Worlds.
And the Chinese superstar could have had a maximum 147 break in that total after potting 15 reds and 14 blacks in frame 20, only to miss the tricky 15th black into the corner pocket. That came deep into the evening session but when the pair walked out into the arena, fresh-faced and optimistic yesterday morning, Ding held a 6-2 advantage following a scoring blitz on Thursday afternoon.
The score soon moved to 7-3 thanks to a century apiece – McManus’ classy 107 cancelling out his opponent’s majestic 138.
But the world No 17 who, like the Scot, had to win three qualifying matches just to reach the Crucible, pushed on in style as breaks of 90 and 97 saw him race 9-3 ahead.
The match looked set to get away from McManus as the prospect of a victory for Ding with a session to spare looked a real possibility until the veteran roared back.
Breaks of 136, 125 and 55 – which included a gutsy final green with the rest – helped him reel off four in a row to close to 9-7 and he won the first of the evening session after half an hour to move one behind. Ding has long been tipped as a future world champion and he began to demonstrate why once again as he garnered some momentum to take three frames on the bounce, including the missed maximum which ended with a 113 break, to lead 12-8.
McManus then won two in a row to narrow the gap to two but Ding pinched frame 23 to make it 13-10 and an edgy final frame was also won by the Chinese cueman on the black for 14-10.
The Scot, who will climb back into the world’s top 20 regardless of the result in this semi-final, will still be a heavy underdog today but if his run over the past ten days has taught us anything – it is to write Alan McManus off at your peril.
While the McManus v Ding semi-final is tight, the other last-four clash between world No 1 Mark Selby and world No 14 Marco Fu is even more so, with the duo locked at 8-8.
Selby had led 5-3 overnight but Fu responded to win yesterday’s eight frames by the same margin, leaving nothing between the two gladiators.
Fu’s performance was even more remarkable considering the tip of his cue fell off mid-break in frame 15 yet, after a quick dash backstage to have it reattached, he regained his composure and won the frame.
l Watch the World Championship live on Eurosport, with Colin Murray and analysis by Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan.