Zhao Xintong moved closer to being crowned the youngest UK champion in a decade as he established a 5-3 lead over Luca Brecel in the first session of their final in York.
The Chinese 24-year-old showed a few signs of nerves but a break of 78 in the eighth frame proved enough to hold off the Belgian ahead of Sunday night’s conclusion of their best-of-19 encounter.
The duo had roared through their respective semi-finals, with Brecel firing four centuries in defeating Kyren Wilson and Zhao adding six breaks in excess of 70 as he brushed aside former world finalist Barry Hawkins.
And the exhilarating, one-visit snooker looked set to continue as Zhao opened up with an effortless 79 in the opening frame, and Brecel responded with yet another three-figure effort as he hauled level with a break of 133.
Zhao restored his lead with a break of 61 in the next, but was beginning to show his first signs of nerves as he let in the Belgian for runs of 33 and 47 to restore parity again.
Both players were guilty of missing chances in the next, but Zhao took them both to take a two-frame advantage and looked a strong bet to seize control of the final with an effortless break of 46 in the next.
But Zhao broke down after missing an easy black, then handed Brecel an unlikely chance to claw his way back to a single frame deficit heading into the final frame of the afternoon session.
Zhao stepped up again with a break of 78 to re-establish his two-frame advantage and make him the favourite to land his first major title when play resumed.
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