Ronnie O’Sullivan was beaten by home favourite Zhang Anda in the International Championship semi-final on Saturday.
Zhang won the race to nine frames, coming from behind and winning five frames in a row to record a 9-6 victory and knock the world No. 1 out in a thrilling encounter.
Zhang, who described O’Sullivan as “the most legendary player” ahead of the match, took control of the early proceedings.
Dominant breaks of 63 and 70 without reply from the Englishman got the encounter off to a bright start – but O’Sullivan, searching for his fabled top-class form, hit back instantly to steal a thrilling second frame.
Another respectable break of 68 and some quick safety exchanges kept Zhang ahead of O’Sullivan and he took the lead in the fourth frame, but an in-off from the world No. 37 allowed O’Sullivan back in at 2-2.
In a staggering fifth frame, O’Sullivan conceded four consecutive foul shots on a difficult long red escape before finally making the shot – a touch off a clustered red – to keep his hopes of taking the lead for the first time alive.
Things would get even better for Zhang, who finally found some breathing room when he went two frames ahead and looked good for the lead heading into the second session.
But, with the chance to sink the pink and guarantee the lead at the break, Zhang missed in what would be a decisive moment, turning the tide in the 47-year-old’s favour.
A break of 99 from the “Rocket” followed, and somehow – against all odds – he was level at 4-4 as the morning session concluded.
O’Sullivan took the momentum from his strong finish into the second session, where not only did he go ahead for the first time in the match, but stretched to a two-frame lead to find some breathing space of his own.
An 83-point clearance was Zhang’s response to falling behind, settling the 31-year-old’s nerves after a difficult start to the evening session, and in another peculiar moment, O’Sullivan called a foul on himself at 48-32 in the 12th frame when he ran out of position on a green.
Zhang cleared from the greet to once again level the match at the mid-session interval and effectively set up a best-of-five decider.
That’s when the home favourite came into his own. With the previous two frames in the bag, Zhang continued his top form after the break to win a third frame in succession with a clearance of 114.
The trio of frames put the wind firmly in Zhang’s sails and, after a much tighter encounter in the 14th, he moved to within one of victory.
He exquisitely closed out the match as O’Sullivan’s early struggles resurfaced to set up an exciting final with England’s Ford, which will be live on Eurosport from 6:00 UK time on Sunday.