China’s talented Zhao Xintong, described this week as “our Federer” by Ronnie O’Sullivan, reached the semi-finals of the Cazoo UK Championship with a 6-2 thumping of Jack Lisowski.
On Saturday evening, Zhao will face Barry Hawkins, who booked his place in the last four with a 6-1 win over Andy Hicks. With Kyren Wilson to take on Luca Brecel at 1pm, it’s a semi-final line-up featuring four players who have never reached the final of this event before. On Sunday night in York, one of them will lift the trophy and collect the top prize of £200,000.
Asked about Zhao earlier this week, O’Sullivan said: “He is amazing, I think he is our (Roger) Federer. I’ve never seen a more talented snooker player.” World number 26 Zhao, age 24, now has the chance to live up to his potential by winning one of snooker’s biggest tournaments. He is through to his second ranking event semi-final and first since the 2018 China Championship – when he beat Hawkins 5-4 in the last eight.
Both Zhao and Brecel have the added motivation of a chance to book a place at next month’s Cazoo Masters. Reaching the final could be enough for a top 16 spot for Zhao, while Brecel needs to win the title.
Lisowski started strongly tonight with breaks of 79 and 63 to win the first two frames. And he had a clear chance to go 3-0 ahead but missed the brown to a baulk corner when leading 57-56. Xiao punished him to close to 2-1 and that proved a turning point.
Sheffield-based Zhao won the fourth frame on the colours then came from 61-0 down to take the fifth with a 74 clearance. From 3-2 ahead, he reeled off the last three frames with top runs of 56, 56 and 83.
“It was an amazing game,” said Zhao. “When I was 2-0 down, I was just thinking ‘take it easy now.’ He missed balls in the third and fourth frames and so I was able to get back into it. Then I was thinking I can do it, I can win the match.
“I’m very happy now. It’s a big tournament for me and this was a big match because it can give me more confidence, which is important in this sport. Barry Hawkins is a great player and also in the top 16. I don’t want to think to much about it, I don’t want to add pressure on myself.”
Hawkins is through to the 27th ranking event semi-final of his career and is looking for his fourth title. The 42-year-old Londoner has made serene progress through the draw so far, losing just eight frames in his six matches. This is his first appearance in the semi-finals of the UK Championship, though he has made it to the last four of the Betfred World Championship on five occasions.
Hicks, the world number 102, had chances in each of the first four frames tonight, but couldn’t take them and Hawkins went 4-0 ahead with a top break of 55. Hicks pulled one back after the interval, But Hawkins compiled a run of 57 in the sixth to go 5-1 ahead, then came from 35-0 down in the seventh to seal victory with breaks of 30 and 45.
“I was hoping to play well tonight but it didn’t work out like that,” admitted Hawkins. “I’m just pleased to be through to the semi-finals. It was scrappy from the word go, we were both missing pots and couldn’t control the white. I just wanted to get the match out of the way.
“It’s more mental than technical, my focus wasn’t good enough tonight. I’ll do some practice tomorrow and try to get my timing back. If I can find my A game then I have got a chance, I need to believe in myself to go out there and play well on the big occasion. There’s no getting away from the fact that the draw has opened right up. I could have been playing Judd Trump or David Gilbert but they got knocked out.
“I remember the first time I played Zhao, he beat me 6-1 at the International Championship eight years ago and he potted everything in sight. He was so talented, even back then I knew he was going to do well in the game. It’s surprising he has taken so long, but the game is tough and there is a lot to learn. If I have any advantage over him I have to try to use it, but I won’t be playing in a negative way, I’ll just play my own game.”
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