Yan Bingtao produced a remarkable comeback to beat John Higgins 10-8 in the final of the Masters, claiming his maiden Triple Crown title in the process.
Bingtao looked to have it all to do when trailing 5-3 and 7-5, but the Chinese youngster displayed remarkable resilience and composure to win three of the evening’s frames on the final black – one of those re-spotted - and claw his way back into the match.
Having made a wonderful century to level the scores at 7-7, Bingtao won the next frame to inch ahead and though Higgins tried valiantly to wrestle back control, he was made to pay for mistakes as his opponent completed the biggest win of a career that appears destined to enjoy many more nights like these.
Higgins would have held high hopes of becoming Masters champion for a third time after finishing the first session with a two-frame advantage, but he lacked the killer instinct that has typified his illustrious career for nearly three decades and cut a frustrated figure as the night wore on.
Having built up a 67-point lead in the opening frame of the evening session, Higgins watched on in horror as Bingtao eventually came out on top courtesy of a nerveless re-spotted black, before the Masters debutant followed up with a break of 76 to draw level at 5-5.
Nevertheless, Higgins immediately got back on track with runs of 74 and 116 to seemingly leave himself in pole position in the race to 10.
The Scot ought to have extended his lead to 8-5, but a pivotal 13th frame went the way of Bingtao after Higgins went in-off having very nearly been home and dry when looking to play safe from a position of dominance.
That mistake was to prove a big turning point, and when Bingtao held his nerve to get back within a frame, Higgins' game started to buckle under the strain.
Higgins then found himself behind for the first time since the opening frame of the day when watching his opponent put together assured breaks of 103 and 55 in frames 14 and 15 - the latter another frame won on the final black.
Higgins responded in typically gutsy fashion but from 8-8, Bingtao looked the stronger man and further well-taken contributions of 70 and 64 were enough to haul him over the winning line and leave a gracious Higgins looking shattered at the end of a match he will surely feel he let slip from his grasp.
"He was fantastic – he’s got such an incredible all-round game. I had my chances and I’m sick because I should have gone 6-3 in front and I was in control to go 8-5 in front," Higgins told the BBC.
"I’m gutted, but every credit to him – it is a brilliant achievement winning it at such a young age."
Speaking through a translator, Bingtao said: "It is how I look all the time – you can’t tell how nervous I am but my heart is really beating out.
"On the last red in the final frame I was so close to the winning line but he still stayed on the table fighting, and that is the most pressured moment I felt."
John Higgins leads Yan Bingtao 5-3 in the final of the Masters after a nervy opening session in Milton Keynes.
Higgins was unable to replicate the scintillating snooker he produced in his quarter-final victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan, or even his 6-4 defeat of David Gilbert on Saturday night, but he drew upon his vast experience to win four of the last five frames of the afternoon and move into the ascendancy.
In his first Masters final, Bingtao displayed sings of understandable early nerves but was still assured enough to win the opening frame with a run of 66 before leading 2-1 thanks an extraordinary missed blue from Higgins when the frame was his for the taking.
However, the veteran Scot, who is contesting his fifth Masters final, brushed aside that disappointment by putting together a break of 63 in the fourth frame to ensure the scores were level at the mid-session interval.
Bingtao headed straight for the practice table in the break, but he was denied any table time upon the resumption as Higgins threatened to take complete control of the match - a well-taken hand of 98 taking him into the lead for the first time before he dominated frame six to extend his advantage to 4-2.
Things looked set to get even better for Higgins when he built up a healthy lead early in the seventh frame until he ran out of position on 40. To his credit, Bingtao displayed great character to produce a timely riposte - the Chinese steeling himself for a brave clearance of 97 that was highlighted by a brilliant positional shot from yellow to red early in the break.
With Higgins now back in his sights, Bingtao made the early running in the eighth and final frame of the afternoon, but he was left to rue a missed green that opened the door for Higgins to produce one of his trademark counter-attacks.
Despite breaking down on 52, Higgins was always in command of the frame thereafter and good pots on green and brown were enough to reestablish his two-frame cushion - one that ensures he will return for tonight's concluding session as strong favourite to claim his third Masters title.