Yan Bingtao is one step closer to becoming the youngest world champion in history after an accomplished victory over Martin Gould at the Betfred World Championship.
The 21-year-old from China can beat the record established by record seven-time champion Stephen Hendry back in 1990 if he goes on to lift the trophy this year.
And that possibility is looking less far-fetched by the day. ‘Yan the Man’ saw his reputation sky-rocket by winning the prestigious Betfred Masters back in January.
Many saw the vast experience of an in-form John Higgins proving too much that day, but Yan took all that the Scot could throw at him and then hurled back a few missiles of his own.
It was very much a breakthrough success that put him at or least very close to the top table and confirmed the promise shown since he was a teenager.
The 45-year-old Higgins got an earlier glimpse of Yan’s talent when he and Stephen Maguire lost to a then 15-year-old and his fellow teenager Zhou Yuelong in the final of the World Cup.
Both he and Maguire tipped the pair for great things after that match, and their predictions have been shown to have plenty of foundation.
Yan was not even born when Hendry, now 52, won the last of his world titles in 1999. And it is perhaps surprising that record still stands.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson are among those that have tried and failed to beat that milestone.
And after a 10-6 win that featured crucial breaks and frame steals at key moments against Londoner Gould, Yan will next face either Murphy or veteran Mark Davis over three days from next Saturday.
Yan said on Sunday: “Winning the world title will be very difficult and maybe impossible, you have to play well in every session of every match over the whole 17 days.
“Every Chinese player wants to win this World Championship because none have done so yet. But I still think Ding Junhui has the best chance to do that. He has a good chance this year.
“I know that I would be the youngest winner if I could do it and who knows, let’s hope I play well and see what happens. I have a small chance.
“I played well today, Martin is a dangerous player and I made some important breaks at good times.
“Winning the Masters has given me a lot more confidence coming to the World Championships this time. It changed me in that way, although not as a person.
“And I took that into this game, it can be important when the game is close. We all know snooker is very hard, but I am practicing very hard every day.”
O’Sullivan admitted recently that seeing Hendry’s incredible run to the title in 1990 at that tender age left him initially left open-mouthed in awe – but soon inspired to emulate such feats.
He said: “Watching that 1990 tournament as a teenager, what Stephen Hendry was doing was unbelievable. It was a completely different brand of snooker, very attacking and aggressive.
“He came along and tore the game to pieces – I had never seen the game played like that before. The record of being the youngest world champion is going to be a hard one to beat. I couldn’t, John Higgins couldn’t, Mark Williams couldn’t and Judd Trump couldn’t.
“There isn’t anyone I can think of that is likely to do it in the foreseeable future, and that one could easily stand another 20 or 30 years in my view.”
That is the stiff challenge facing Yan, but little seems to have rattled or daunted him so far in his embryonic career. And he would delight in proving O’Sullivan wrong.
Meanwhile, Dave Gilbert has slapped an alcohol ban on himself in a bid for Crucible glory. The 39-year-old from Tamworth beat close friend Chris Wakelin 10-4 to reach the second round of the World Championship.
World No15 Gilbert admits he has not coped at all well with losing his normal social life during lockdown – but is leaving a pub blowout until he is either knocked out or lifts the trophy.
Gilbert has been bouncing around the venue enjoying the start of a return to normality and showed flashes of the form that took him to the verge of the final two years ago.
Gilbert said: “I know people think I like a beer – which I really do! But in-game mode it is very different.
“I won’t drink maybe three weeks before this tournament, and then not during any event and certainly not during this one.
“And then if I either get beaten in a disaster or win it, there might be a blowout if there is a two-week gap. It takes me longer to recover now.
“All the memories of getting to the semi-final, mostly good but also the bad one about losing it, came back and gave me a buzz just driving past the Crucible.
“It was great to have the crowd here, and it all felt a bit more normal. It is nice to be smiling again, though I shouldn’t have lost the plot so much.”
O’Sullivan has decided to stay in Sheffield rather than head home to Essex for a few days despite the ugly incident on Saturday between sessions of his 10-4 win over debutant Mark Joyce that saw him harassed by a drunk fan in an outdoor café.