Defending champion Stuart Bingham warned his Masters rivals that he has yet to reach top form after scraping his way through to Saturday’s semi-finals.

Bingham was far from at his fluent best in Milton Keynes but now sits just two games away from back-to-back Paul Hunter Trophy titles thanks to a 6-3 win over Shaun Murphy.

Free-flowing snooker was hard to come by with the Essex potter clinging on to a vital fourth frame to head into the mid-session interval at 2-2.

And thereon he always looked the likelier winner, with either Stephen Maguire or Yan Bingtao standing in the way of Sunday’s final.

“I’m over the moon, to get to the semi-finals of the Masters again. It was a hard-fought game, there were moments where we both played well but otherwise it was a bit of a slog,” the 44-year-old said.

“I don’t know what it is about the Masters. It’s the top players battling it out – I don’t feel that I’ve played my best yet but when you get to the semi-finals, you have every chance.

“It’s my daughter’s birthday today, I was gutted not to be able to be with them, so I wanted to take the win for her and celebrate with more when I get home.

“Winning matches is more special, there’s a lot to play for and I want to support my family well in that way. We’re very lucky to be playing in the first place.”

Bingham will go into his semi-final match full of confidence and also favourite based on the seedings.

But with Maguire and Yan beating Mark Selby and Neil Robertson respectively in their first-round matches, whoever he faces will provide a stern test.

Having first played each other 21 years ago, Bingham and Scotland’s Maguire are certainly on familiar terms on and off the table.

But it’s a meeting with China’s Yan – who was only just born when the two faced off at the 2000 Thailand Masters – that sticks out in the Basildon cueman’s memories.

“I was on one of the Asian tour events a few years back, I went to an academy and was asked for a practice match by one of the lads,” Bingham continued.

“Then I went out to play my first competitive match and it was the same lad I’d practiced with, and it turned out to be Yan who was cheeky and snuck in some practice!

“I was two frames down and 50 points behind before I even got a shot – I lost 4-0.

“I returned the favour at the next event and beat him. He’s a fantastic talent and has definitely deserved his place in the top 16.

“Whoever I play, they’ll be happy to play me in a semi-final. I’ll just have to go out there and enjoy it, have a smile on my face and see what happens.”

Watch the London Masters live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from 10 Jan