Made in Sheffield, played in York, but Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao is an all-China affair at UK Championship
Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao will create a piece of history on Saturday at the Betway UK Championship.
For it will be the first time two Chinese players – the pair both live and train in Sheffield – will compete in the semi-finals of a Triple Crown event.
Marketing taglines of ‘Battle of China’ or even a ‘Steel City derby’ are simply not needed though as millions in their homeland will watch the pair meet at the York Barbican.
Ding moved to Sheffield as a teenager, and the 32-year-old is a national hero in China.
But Yan is the young pretender to Ding’s throne, and the 19-year-old – who trains at Sheffield’s Vics Snooker Academy – has already won this season’s Riga Masters.
And he will be looking to deny Ding – a former world No 1, who has slipped down the rankings to 16 and has not won a ranking event since 2017 – the chance of a third UK title when they meet today.
After knocking out defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the previous round, Ding cruised to a 6-2 win against another Chinese cueman in Liang Wenbo.
“I’m very pleased with the way I played,” said Ding, who had breaks of 79, 101 and 76.
“I’m just trying to learn. Everyone is different at finding the best way to deal with the pressure. I don’t get upset or think negative thoughts, I just play the simple shots, play everything the same.
“If you don’t wake up and feel good it’s tough, but sometimes you feel very good. I just want to play like I did today, that was enough for me.”
While Yan is a rising talent, Ding knows the pressures which come with being a talented teenager.
He was just 18 when he won the China Open and UK Championship – the first of two titles in this competition – but this is his first UK semi-final since his second success in 2009.
“Yan has talent and he is flying up the rankings,” said Ding. “He has won a tournament already this season so he must be very confident. I think he’s ready for the top level.”
Yan reached the semi-finals after grinding out a 6-3 win over three-time UK champion John Higgins.
“I’m looking forward to playing Ding – we have never met before in a pro tournament and the first time will be in the semi-finals of the UK Championship,” Yan said.
“I hope it will be a good match.”
In a low-scoring match – Yan’s top break was just 43 – he capitalised on some uncharacteristic errors from Higgins.
“This is one of my best ever wins, although neither of us played well,” said Yan.
“It was very scrappy with lots of balls missed. I didn’t expect to beat Neil Robertson (in the previous round) or John Higgins. This gives me a lot of confidence. When I looked at the draw before the tournament I never thought I would go this far.”
Higgins showed flashes of quality – including a 123 break in frame eight – but it was too little, too late.
Higgins said: “When you play as badly as that it’s pretty soul destroying but I get used to it.
“Yan dealt with the conditions a lot better and he only took chances on which he was favourite to get.
“His safety was top notch, he had me in all sorts of bother. The best man certainly won.
“He’s got a great all round game. He maybe has to score a little bit better to get right to the very top of the game but I’m sure that will come. He’s a lovely young boy as well, fair play to him.”
Tickets for next year’s UK Championship at York go on sale on Sunday morning.
Next year’s tournament will run from November 24 to December 6. The box office opens at 10am.
A World Snooker spokesman said: “We are thrilled to be coming back to the York Barbican next year for one of our biggest tournaments.
“The event seems to grow each year in terms of the demand for tickets. We have also made some changes to the fan experience this year which makes a trip to the snooker a fantastic day out for people of all ages.
“Fans must book early for next year to make sure of their seats.”
Tickets will be available at www.worldsnooker.com/tickets or by calling 0844 854 2757.