Stephen Lee staved off a spirited comeback from Anthony Hamilton and overcame badly timed problems with his cue-tip to remain on course for Welsh Open glory at Newport tonight.
World number 10 Lee held his nerve in a tense finish to edge past Hamilton 6-5 after a four-and-a-half hour marathon to reach the final of a world ranking tournament for the first time since he was crowned Scottish Open champion in 2002.
Leading 5-3 the 31-year-old from Trowbridge was in the driver’s seat but, playing an exhibition power shot on the blue in the eighth frame, dislodged his tip.
Play was suspended for 15 minutes as Lee dashed backstage to reaffix the tip - and when he returned momentum shifted.
Lee explained: “I started to do stupid things with the white and my tip flew off.
“That knocked me back a bit but luckily I managed to get across the line.
“Relieved – that’s probably the best way to describe how I feel at the moment.”
“Now I’ve got to decide whether to keep the same tip on for the final – I’ve played well with it on – or put on a new one.”
Hamilton, the 125-1 outsider for the title who surprised recent Malta Cup winner Ken Doherty in the last 16, had runs of 55 and 68 in the ninth frame before forcing a decider with a 72 break after Lee, seemingly in to win, had jawed a straightforward red.
Suddenly Lee was under huge pressure but the former LG Cup and Grand Prix champion handled it coolly.
When Hamilton overcut a mid-range red early in the all-important 11th frame, Lee stepped in with a 55 break and this time Hamilton could not respond.
In tomorrow’s best-of-17-frames final, where a first prize of £35,000 is up for grabs, Lee takes on Barry Hawkins or Shaun Murphy, the world champion.
And the Wiltshire player insisted: “No matter who I play I’ll be up for it with the trophy at the end of the table. There’s no danger of that.”
Lee, who has beaten only one member of the elite top 16 so far – Graeme Dott - added: “I’ve had a really good draw here, let’s not beat about the bush, and I’ve made the most of it.”
While Lee was celebrating a wholesale change of fortunes having lost his opening contest in the season’s first three ranking events, Hamilton was coming to terms with squandering a golden opportunity.
Disgruntled Hamilton, still waiting for his first world ranking title after turning pro in 1991, said: “I just flicked a touch of right-hand side on the cue ball when I missed that red in the last and it cost me. If I’d potted it I fancied the job.
“Of course I’m disappointed but I missed too much all day and for most of the match I was hanging on.
“Overall Stephen was the better player and he deserved to win.”
Hamilton now turns his attention to facing Liverpool’s Rod Lawler in the final qualifying round of the 888.com World Championship in Prestatyn later this month.