Si Jiahui comes from the ‘Pearl City’ of Zhuji in China – and snooker’s latest gem got off a fine start in his bid to become the youngest world champion.
The 20-year-old took a 5-3 lead over Belgium’s Luca Brecel in the first session of four in their World Championship semi-final at the Crucible in Sheffield.
Si, the youngest semi-finalist since Ronnie O’Sullivan in 1996, is also at world No80 the lowest-ranked player ever to reach the last four – though Terry Griffiths was unranked when he won in 1979.
It has been a spectacular run from the youngster, who has won over the crowd with his nerveless approach and attacking style.
And the unexpected run could not have come at a better time for both snooker and China, with 10 of his compatriots currently involved in a match-fixing hearing in London.
Qualifier and debutant Si, who won three matches just to get here and has already played 121 frames, said: “It is a big, big surprise to have got to the semi-finals.
“My father owns a snooker club, and he loved the game. When I was about 11 I first tried it.
“I never played Luca before this semi-final, it is a first time in the last four for both of us. I am very proud and honoured to be there, only the third Chinese player to do it. It is like a fairy-tale.”
Si rattled in breaks of 127, 102 and 97 to surge into a 4-1 lead, and though he had chances in both of the next two frames Brecel managed to stop the rot.
The Belgian could and probably should have levelled things up at 4-4 – but Si managed to steal it on the black and take an advantage into Friday’s second and third sessions of a scheduled four.
Si did have to survive that wobble at the end, but an impressed Hendry said earlier: “He is playing like he is on the practice table.
“He is walking around the table as if ‘This game is easy, I’m not doing anything special here’. Talk about being able to play your best snooker under the biggest spotlight – it’s hugely impressive.”
Meanwhile Brecel did receive a big boost as he walked off the table on Thursday afternoon – learning that girlfriend Laura Vanoverberghe’s last-ditch efforts to get a passport application rushed through and issued back home had been successful.
That means that the pair should be reunited in Sheffield on Friday for the next stages of the biggest match in Brecel’s life.
Brecel said: “I am very happy off the table, and that is a big reason why I am playing well. Because based on the time I have put into practice, I shouldn’t be playing well.
“But if you have a bit of talent and you feel good in yourself, you can play amazing. My girlfriend and I have only been together a few weeks but she is living with me already and it is a great feeling, she is a fantastic girl.
“Her dad was a snooker player as well, a very good amateur in Belgium so she knew who I was. She watch me for many years, but we have only recently got together. It has been quite quick.
“There have been many messages from famous people texting me, even Paddy Pimblett the UFC fighter. He said I was great to watch and had a big future.
“I am not really interested in being a big star – it’s all about the playing for me, enjoying being on that table and giving the fans entertaining snooker to watch.
“All the rest of it is not really my thing. I think I can keep up the standard I showed at the end against Ronnie for a long time, because my style is not exhausting.
“I see a shot, I go for it, if I miss it he clears, if I pot it then I clear. It’s easy for me mentally. If I played like Mark Selby or people like that I would never be able to win such a long game, I would be exhausted.”