Standing just 5ft 8in tall with the slightest of builds and a quiet demeanour, Ding Junhui is an unlikely superhero.
But with a legion of fans back home in China and 11 ranking events under his belt, that’s exactly what he is; on the snooker table, at least.
And the Sheffield-based star made a superhuman start to his semi-final against Alan McManus here at the Crucible yesterday, storming into a five-frame lead before the Scot - or anyone in attendance - really knew it.
McManus - at 45, the oldest Crucible semi-finalist in 31 years - last graced the one-table stage in 1993, when Ding was six.
But the Chinese star made the early exchanges of this semi-final seem like child’s play as he stormed ahead, drawing rapturous applause from the Crucible crowd as he careered into the pack of reds from an early blue and then made the most of a flukey red in the second frame to rattle off a century clearance.
McManus, something of a snooker throwback with a retro nickname of ‘Angles’ and with no main sponsor on his waistcoat, could only watch as Ding got position on a red by screwing back off the blue and hitting the jaws of the middle bag. It was as audacious as it was brilliant, and the crowd reacted suitably.
Ding rattled in a 131 break to go three ahead and made his first mistake of the match in the fourth frame, a nasty double kiss scuppering his attempted safety. McManus, whose unusual technique of lifting his head just before a shot won’t be found in any coaching manuals, got to 31 as he attempted something of a resurgence before a bad kick ended his break, much to the Scot’s visible annoyance.
Ding rattled in a 62 clearance to go four ahead from four and, and McManus sloped out the Crucible stage door for a mid-session interval cigarette, the Sheffield heavens began to open.
The Scottish veteran will only hope that isn’t a sign of things to come - although Ding already leads 6-2, with four centuries in the bag.
n While Ding and McManus were doing battle on the table, World Snooker chief Barry Hearn was holding court in the press room as he announced a 10-year deal with Eurosport. “This is a very significant moment for our sport,” Hearn said.