MATTHEW STEVENS reached the quarter-finals of the UK Championship for the first time since he won the title nine years ago – but he had to come through a dogfight with Marco Fu.

The Welshman finally got the better of the Hong Kong player 6-4 in a game that lasted nearly five hours.

Neither player was at their best for large spells of this edgy match, but there were flashes of brilliance.

Stevens led 4-1 at one point, largely on the back of breaks of 73 and 72, but Fu – helped by 97 and 60 – fought back to level at 4-4. One frame lasted more than 49 minutes and another 40 in an encounter that was strictly for the snooker purists.

But, under the cosh, Stevens found a touch of class to progress. His clearance of 74 to regain the lead was quite brilliant and he booked a last-eight spot tomorrow against John Higgins or Mark Davis on the back of an effort of 59.

When told it was his first UK last eight spot since 2003, Stevens said: “I am quite shocked at that. I didn’t know that and it’s quite surprising actually. It wasn’t the best match in the world. Marco missed a few and I missed a few and sometimes matches go like that.

“I missed an easy blue, looked like going 5-3 ahead, and he’s made a good clearance and he got in first in the next with 50-odd and I thought ‘this is going to be a horrible drive home again’ but I managed to dig in, made a good clearance, and found something from somewhere.

“I will have to play a lot better if I am to get any further, but I can still win it. As long as you are in the draw, you’ve got a chance.

“It wasn’t a free flowing match. I started off all right and made a couple of 70s in the first few frames but after that it was tough.

“It’s hard to enjoy a match when you are making eight breaks and playing safe all the time. But the last few frames were good, especially under the circumstances.”