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'Swaggering' snooker sensation Si grew up among tables of dad's club

The Crucible covered in ticker tape after the 2022 World Championship final. ©AFP

Hong Kong (AFP) - Si Jiahui's fairytale run to the World Snooker Championship semi-finals is reward for a childhood spent around his father's smoky pool club and having to endure bouts of homesickness.

The 20-year-old Chinese player has been a revelation on his debut at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre, the unofficial home of snooker.

He squeezed past Scotland's Anthony McGill 13-12 in the last eight to set up a showdown with Luca Brecel, himself a surprise victor over seven-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan.

Si's storming run has seen him mentioned in the same breath as the legendary O'Sullivan -- he is the youngest player to make it to the last four in Sheffield since the Briton in 1996.

At 80 in the world, he is the lowest-ranked player in the tournament.

Si, who had to win three qualifying matches to reach the Crucible, led Belgium's Brecel 5-3 after the first session of their semi-final on Thursday.

If he does the unthinkable and goes on to win the title, Si will be the first Chinese player to lift the world crown, surpassing even Chinese trailblazer Ding Junhui.

According to Chinese media -- who this week described him as "gentle" and someone who "doesn't talk much" -- Si caused a sensation at home when as a 13-year-old he beat Ding.

At this world championship, the qualifier Si beat Shaun Murphy in the first round and the 2005 Crucible winner afterwards tipped Si to become China's first world snooker champion.

"I see things in him that some of the other players don't have," said Murphy, the fourth seed and one of the pre-tournament favourites.

"He's got a bit of swagger, he's very talented, plays right and left-handed, gets on with it, and always tries to attack.

"I threw everything at him, I tried my absolute best and I still lost."

Si's exploits are timely -- just as 10 fellow Chinese players suspended over alleged match-fixing fight for their future and the reputation of Chinese snooker.

A hearing looking into the evidence against them began this week, the BBC reported, although verdicts will not be announced until a later date.

They face lengthy bans if found guilty.

Beating the adults

Si is based in Sheffield and only turned professional in 2019.

He moved to the northern English city to follow his snooker dreams but his heart is very much back home in China.

Speaking in Sheffield, Si said that he finally went home earlier this year after three long years during which the pandemic made travel to China almost impossible.

"I had a great time with my parents and hung out with my girlfriend.I was homesick because it had been three years since I last went home," he said.

Si, who comes from the eastern province of Zhejiang, speaks to his father regularly and says the pool club back home has stayed open after midnight so the punters can cheer him on.

His love of snooker comes from his father and growing up around the tables of the club.

"Every day when he came home from school, he would watch people play," Chinese media said.

"Aged 10 he was about the same height as the cue, but he still was able to beat many adults who came to the club to play."

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