Yan Bingtao on course to be snooker’s youngest ever champion

Yan Bingtao stands just two wins away from becoming snooker’s youngest ever major ranking event winner after he came through a thrilling Northern Ireland Open quarter-final.

The 17-year-old came back from 3-1 down and behind in the final frame to beat Robert Milkins 5-4 in arguably the most dramatic match of the competition so far.

The teenager will face fellow Chinese teenager – 19-year-old Lyu Haotian in Saturday’s semi-final – ensuring a young Chinese player will make Sunday’s grand final.

It is the second time Bingtao has made the semi-finals of a major ranking event this season following his superb run in the International Championship several weeks ago. A run which saw him thrash the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins.

O’Sullivan is currently the sport’s youngest ever major winner when he burst onto the scene winning the UK Championship in 1993 as a 17-year-old. But Bingtao has the opportunity to beat his record should he win two more matches in Belfast this weekend.

Bingtao, playing in just his second season as a professional, first hit the snooker limelight as a 15-year-old helping China’s B team win the Snooker World Cup with team-mate Zhou Yuelong.

And an impressive debut season on the World Snooker tour saw him win the Rookie of the Year award after he reached the last 16 of seven ranking events, climb to 56th in the world and earn a first appearance at the Crucible – in which he gave a mighty scare for Shaun Murphy in the first round.

Haotian is another surprise name who has made a huge breakthrough this week. He came through a thrilling match of his own to make the semi-finals of a major ranking event for the first time in berating fellow Chinese star Tian Pengfei 5-4.

The semi-final will be played on Saturday night and will no doubt create huge interest in the Far East.

Saturday’s other semi-final will be a contest between experience and the young as two-times world champion and 42-year-old Mark Williams takes on Elliot Slessor.

23-year-old Slessor has managed to follow up his best ever win against Ronnie O’Sullivan with impressive victories against Sam Craigie and Li Yuan and now stands just one win away from reaching his first ranking final.

Williams – the only player in the world’s top 16 standing in this competition – will go into the contest as a strong favourite after he eased his way into the last four, beating Mike Dunn 5-1.

 

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