UK champion Ding Junhui ends long wait for trophy at York Barbican
The day started with news of a lucrative 10-year deal to take snooker to Saudi Arabia, but it ended with an adopted Yorkshireman in Ding Junhui being crowned UK champion.
Ding may hail from China, but the 32-year-old has made Sheffield his home since he came to England as a teenager.
And he enjoyed the local support in the York Barbican crowd to secure a 10-6 Betway UK Championship final win over Stephen Maguire and pocket the £200,000 top prize.
It completed the hat-trick of UK titles for Ding, elevating him to elite status as only four other players – Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven), Steve Davis (six), Stephen Hendry (five) and John Higgins (three) – have won this competition at least three times.
The only surprise – after a final that finished with the players sharing four successive centuries – was why Ding has not won a ranking title for two years, which has seen the former world No 1 slip down the rankings.
“This is very special,” said Ding. “It has been two years and I have done nothing, but I have played very well this week.
“I worried about not doing well and asked myself, ‘can I win again?’
“But this week I played so well and beat Ronnie O’Sullivan on the way to the final. I started to believe that I could lift the trophy again.”
Ding resumed on Sunday night leading 5-3 in their best-of-19 match, and the 32-year-old extended his advantage to 7-3, including an 83 break.
But Maguire had shown in Saturday’s semi-final win over Mark Allen – where he romped to a 6-0 victory – that he has the ability to score heavily on a consistent basis.
So few inside the Barbican were surprised to see the 38-year-old from Glasgow reel off three century breaks in the next four frames.
A 103 break made it 7-4, before Ding replied with a 67 to head into the mid-session interval needing just two more frames to land his 14th ranking title.
But whatever Maguire had in his interval cuppa certainly worked wonders as he fired off breaks of 103 – after a poor miss on the black from Ding – before an even better 124 to trail 8-6.
But Ding – who surprisingly had not claimed a ranking title since the 2017 World Open – had produced the best snooker in York over the previous 11 days, including knocking out defending champion O’Sullivan.
And he kept his nerve, rattling off a 131 clearance, the 138th century of this year’s tournament, a new record in York that previously had been last year’s 137.
Few would have predicted this final line-up, with the likes of world No 1 Judd Trump falling in the early rounds. But this was snooker of the highest quality. Both had won the UK title, Maguire in 2004, Ding in 2005 – as a raw 18-year-old – and 2009, and the Chinese star completed the hat-trick with a 114 clearance.
Maguire admitted: “His scoring power; every time you let him in he scores 100. I told him a couple of frames ago, ‘it’s not darts we’re playing, it’s snooker’.”
Ding had started the final looking like a man in a hurry, the world No 16 cruising into a 4-0 lead, with breaks of 47, 48, 56, 105 and 128.
Maguire returned from the interval knowing he needed to grab a lifeline, winning the next three frames. Not even a 49 break from Ding, stumbling with a missed red to the top corner, was enough as Maguire cleared up with 67.
But Ding took the final frame of the afternoon session – with a break of 66 – to hold a 5-3 advantage into the evening’s climax.
Earlier in the day, World Snooker had revealed they would be staging the first ranking event in Saudi Arabia next season.
With Anthony Joshua still basking in his heavyweight title victory in Diriyah on Saturday night, snooker too has been lured by the riches on offer in the Middle East.
The Saudi Arabia Snooker Masters will be held in Riyadh from October 4-10 with total prize money of £2.5m.
World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn said: “This is a giant leap forward for our sport.
“We have enjoyed tremendous global expansion over the past decade, particularly in Asia and Europe and we are thrilled to stage a new and momentous tournament in the Middle East.”