China's Ding Junhui began his match against Peter Ebdon in October and sank the winning ball in November as he stayed on course for a third successive ranking title.

It was half past midnight on 1 November in Chengdu, China, when Ding potted an excellent pink to leave Ebdon needing snookers in their International Championship quarter-final.

More than four hours had elapsed in the gruelling match, with Ebdon plotting his way at a pedestrian pace and Ding forced to show patience before delighting his home supporters by sealing a 6-3 victory, a fluked final red leaving no doubt over the outcome.

Ding is on course to become the first man since Stephen Hendry 20 years ago to win three major ranking events in a row.

Hendry in his prime landed a tournament hat-trick in 1993 that included the World Championship, snooker's holy grail that continues to elude Ding.

If 26-year-old Ding can maintain the form that has seen him victorious in the recent Shanghai Masters and Indian Open, and now through to the semi-finals at a tournament that offers prize money on a par with the UK Championship, it seems inevitable he will be a serious Crucible challenger later this season.

His immediate target after fending off 43-year-old former world champion Ebdon may have been a hard-earned night's sleep. On Saturday, though, his attention will be on a semi-final against Scotland's Graeme Dott.

Dott last won a tournament in 2007, at the China Open, and his only other ranking event title was his World Championship success the previous year. However the 36-year-old Larkhall potter is playing well this week and overcame Ronnie O'Sullivan's conqueror Liang Wenbo 6-3 with breaks of 97, 82 and 91 to reach the final four.

Hong Kong's Marco Fu has already triumphed at the Australian Open this season and was close to his very best form in knocking out world number two Mark Selby 6-5, levelling from 5-3 behind and taking the decider with a terrific 112 break.

"This will be my first semi-final at a ranking tournament in China," Fu said. "I lost first-round matches many times and my best performance here was quarter-finals.

"I have made a breakthrough this time and hopefully I can do better tomorrow. I really want to have a good run here because I have a lot of Chinese fans. Unfortunately I let them down most of the time. I hope my momentum goes on."

Awaiting Fu in a two-session match on Friday will be Joe Perry, the 39-year-old Cambridgeshire professional who followed up a fine win over Mark Allen by trouncing Welshman Ryan Day 6-1 on the back of a total clearance of 134 and further breaks of 115 and 103.

Perry, who has never won a major title, has had a brush with defeat already this week but is now eyeing silverware.

"Mentally I feel strong and I'm confident. Anything this week is a bonus because I should have lost my first match, I was 5-1 down to Jamie Jones and came back to win 6-5. I got out of jail and it has gone well for me since then," he said.

"I just hope I can keep this form going, if so I've got every chance. Ding is the big favourite but everyone in the semis has got a chance."