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China Open: Semi-Final Preview

Eight has become four after the China Open quarter-finals concluded on Friday in Beijing.

Mark Williams maintained his hopes of capturing a record fourth China Open crown with a comprehensive 5-1 victory over Shaun Murphy.

Murphy appeared sharp when a break of 56 helped him to the opening frame but the match became scrappy thereafter, which thoroughly suited Williams who is a master under such conditions.

The Welshman boasted a high break of just 52 but it didn't matter much as he moved into the last four of a ranking event for the first time since the Riga Masters all the way back in June last summer.

Williams needs to win the title and pocket the £85,000 champion's cheque in order to dislodge countryman Ryan Day from 16th place in the world rankings list - the last automatic spot for the upcoming World Championship at the Crucible.

The 42 year-old, a China Open winner in 2002, 2006, and 2010, would have probably been expecting to play the in-form Judd Trump for a place in the final this weekend, but the world number two fell in a surprising defeat to Hossein Vafaei Ayouri.

Vafaei produced a wonderful display, knocking in a brace of centuries and further runs of 74 and 57 before a steely clearance in the last frame completed a 5-3 triumph over the favourite. With his progress the Iranian secured a semi-final berth at a ranking event for the first time in his career.

Vafaei had been beset with visa woes when he first began his tenure as a professional, missing several tournaments as a result.

Before this week the 22 year-old's Main Tour fate was still somewhat in doubt but, with this excellent run, he currently heads a list of top eight earners from this season who will regain their place, while he has even launched himself provisionally into the top 64 in the general classifications.

Against Williams, he will challenge a player who he has never had the experience of meeting before.

Williams will certainly begin as favourite but the pressure will now firmly be on the former world champion to advance to Sunday's showpiece.

The second last four clash sees world number one Mark Selby up against fellow Englishman Kyren Wilson after a pair of 5-1 victories over Stephen Maguire and Ding Junhui respectively.

Ding, on the eve of his 30th birthday, had been hoping to give his legion of supporters something to cheer about but Wilson, just as he did en route to his sole ranking event success at the Shanghai Masters in 2015, denied the Chinese number one at the quarter-final stage.

Selby, meanwhile, was nowhere near his best but still had too much in the tank for an out-of-sorts Maguire, whose chances of automatic qualification for the World Championship ended in a flat exit. Selby and Wilson have met just three times outside the Championship League, with the former claiming the spoils on all three occasions.

The most high-profile of these triumphs came at Sheffield last year when Selby beat Wilson in the quarters en route to lifting the world trophy for a second time.

Wilson, who many regard as a rising star in the making, plays the game in a similar fashion to Selby but will have a hard task of outfoxing the avid Leicester fan on Saturday with a place in the China Open final at stake.

Selby, at one time questioned for his inability to win titles when featuring at the business end of proceedings, now boasts the killer instinct and champion's finesse which could land him a fourth ranking glory of the campaign.