John Higgins, pursuing his third world title, secured his place in the final of the World Championship with a 17-13 defeat of the 23-year-old Northern Ireland left hander Mark Allen in a match in which he experienced far more anxiety than seemed possible when he led 15-6.
With such a commanding lead, Higgins seemed to switch his concentration off and suffered a few unkind and costly runs of the ball. Allen is the sort to fight to the last, even if his cause seems hopeless, and he narrowed the gap playing with ever-increasing conviction.
After taking Friday's last four frames, Allen began yesterday with a break of 106 and added two more successes to trail only 15-12. "It was touch-and-go at one point there. I knew exactly what was going on and what a comeback it was," Higgins said. "I was a bag of nerves. Crazy thoughts were running through my head. If I'd lost that match I don't know what I'd have done. I'd have had no heart to practise for another season."
First in with 24 in the next frame, Allen missed "a very bad red" and Higgins was able to allay his mounting concern by clearing with a 116 to go four up with five to play. At 16-13, Higgins was in with 60. Allen responded with 44 but missed a blue simple in itself but, he said, "concentrating on holding for the yellow", to allow Higgins to apply the closure.
Shaun Murphy, the 2005 champion here as a 22-year-old, 150-1 qualifier, also came under severe pressure before clinching a 17-14 win over Neil Robertson, the first Australian semi-finalist since Eddie Charlton in 1982. Leading 14-7, Murphy came almost to a standstill. Consecutive breaks of 66, 68 and 101 gave Robertson the last three frames before lunch, and in two hours of graft he added the first four of the evening to level at 14-14 at the intermission.
Having faced the prospect of losing from such a position, it was much to Murphy's credit that he regained the lead with a break of 106 and added the two remaining frames that he needed with breaks of 81 and 94. "At 14-all I was feeling terrible," Murphy said. "I couldn't pot a ball. That interval came at the right time."
Over the course of the two-day final Murphy will bid to become the fifth player after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams and Ronnie O'Sullivan to win the UK and world titles in the same season.