Mark Selby moved one step away from a third Betfred World Championship title in four years as he saw off Ding Junhui again at the Crucible.

Twelve months ago it was in the final where Selby denied Ding, and this time a 17-15 victory in their semi-final saw the Leicester man through to a likely title match against John Higgins.

Ding may have been a resident of Sheffield for the past decade but it was defending champion Selby who brought the steel to this contest.

He potted fewer balls, scored fewer points, but plotted his way to victory all the same. It is hard to imagine a tougher match player, and the ability to win against such a classy competitor as Ding shows why Selby has topped the world rankings for the last two years and is pulling away.

This was a match where Ding made four centuries and nine more breaks above 50, but the pressure Selby put him under in those frames where safety exchanges and tactical prowess were all-important proved telling.

Ronnie O’Sullivan, beaten by Ding in the quarter-finals, felt China’s great hope was ready to go on and land the first Crucible title by a player from the Far East.

And at 12-12 heading into the final session, it was anyone’s match.

But just as O’Sullivan has experienced in the past, Selby had saved his most gutsy snooker for last.

Breaks of 74 and 96 provided the immediate burst that carried Selby two frames clear, and the swift one-two floored Ding.

The tight frames were also tipping in Selby’s favour, and at 16-13 it looked a foregone conclusion. Ding thought not, running off a pair of one-sided frames, and when he had a chance early in the next a decider looked distinctly possible.

But Ding missed blue and presented Selby with the opening of his dreams. He made 72, his joy and relief plain to see as he celebrated once getting past the point of no return for Ding.

“When I had my chance there I was taking a little bit longer over my shots than I normally would but I knew if I didn’t win the frame at that visit it would have got away from me. Every shot felt like a pint of blood in that frame,” Selby said.

Asked about his show of emotion, Selby told the BBC: “It’s more relief than anything else.”

Ding’s 13 centuries in the tournament ranks as the most by a player at the World Championship not to reach the final, but that was no consolation.

With Selby through, Higgins was minutes away from returning for the evening session armed with a 16-8 lead over Barry Hawkins.

Ding’s reaction to bowing out was obvious frustration, given his performance over the last fortnight.

He said: “I’m disappointed to have lost when I played so well but that is sport.”

Higgins made no mistake against Hawkins, firing a break of 120 in the first frame back to clinch a 17-8 victory.