Teenager wins snooker crown
A snooker craze is expected to sweep China as the nation's snooker prodigy Ding Junhui wrote himself into the history books with a landmark victory of Scotland's snooker legend Stephen Hendry yesterday in Beijing.
With the victory which saw Ding come from the qualifiers to win six consecutive matches before lifting the shining trophy in front of Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan and over 1,500 screaming fans, there is little doubt the spring time of the sport is just round the corner.
"I felt very confident amid the supporting crowd," said an excited Ding. "I want to express my appreciation to the people who have helped me over the past years."
Ding, No 54 in the Tour rankings, gave seven-time world champion Hendry little room in Beijing's Haidian stadium to move in the best-of-17 match before sealing a 9-5 victory.
The efforts of Ding, who celebrated his 18th birthday just three days ago, have helped the sport gain increasing popularity in a country traditionally dominated by badminton and table tennis.
"I saw a few games played by Ding on TV and I found them very interesting," said Li Wei, a sports fan who was at the final.
"I came here and I was totally entranced by the game and it even reminded me of the 2004 Athens Olympics," she said.
Dubbed the Oriental Star, Ding injected fresh blood into the British-dominated sport with his first Asian Championship title in 2002, making him the youngest Asian champion. He rapidly progressed to the Main Tour after becoming the first ever Chinese world champion at the World Youth Championships.
Ding then reached the top 16 at the 2004 British Open and the quarter-finals at the Wembley Masters this year before taking out the international title yesterday.
"He is a talented player and has great potential," said world No 1 Ronnie O'Sullivan. "I think he will be a leading player in the pro tours in the future."
World No 9 Peter Ebdon, who was second best to Ding in the quarter-finals of the tournament, also had high praise for the youngster. "Ding is the best teenage player I have seen in recent years. If he can continue his form just like he showed during the event, there is no one that can defeat him."
Ebdon, who pocketed his World Snooker Championships title at the age of 32, said it would not be too long before Ding becomes a world champion.
"He is certainly one of the best contenders for the world championship and I am sure he will get it at a younger age than me."