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Looking out for a future no 1

By Reuters in London | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-03 07:39

Chinese teenager earning rave reviews from some of the game's biggest names

 Looking out for a future no 1

Chinese teenager Zhao Xintong chalks his cue before making a shot during the English Open in Manchester last month. The talented left-hander made an outstanding clearance of 130 in the opening frame against world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan. [Photo Provided To China Daily]

Chinese teenager Zhao Xintong is as talented as the great Ronnie O'Sullivan was at the same age and will one day be ranked the best snooker player in the world.

That's the prediction of 2013 world championship runner-up Barry Hawkins.

Zhao, a left-hander, made everyone in the game sit up and take notice when he made an outstanding clearance of 130 in the first frame of his English Open second-round clash with O'Sullivan in Manchester last month.

The 19-year-old, who only turned professional this year, went on to take the five-time world champion all the way to a final-frame decider and was unlucky to go down 4-3 to the Englishman.

"Zhao stands out among the Chinese talent that's around in the game," said world No 14 Hawkins.

Looking out for a future no 1

"He's very attacking, goes for a lot of shots, which is probably his downfall at the moment, but I'm sure in time the tactical side will come through and he'll learn that side of things too.

"He's a future world champion and because the two near enough go hand in hand, a future world No 1 as well. There's an air of super confidence about him," said the 37-year-old Hawkins.

"Ronnie also had that when he first came on the scene at 17, 18. Zhao hasn't won the same number of tournaments Ronnie won, but he's the closest thing I've seen to Ronnie at the same age."

Chinese players have excelled in recent weeks with Ding Junhui winning the Shanghai Masters and reaching the final of the International Championship while Liang Wenbo landed the English Open title.

Last year, Ding became the first Asian to reach the world championship final before he was beaten 18-14 by England's Mark Selby.

Buccaneering style

Hawkins, who lost 18-12 in the world final at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield three years ago when O'Sullivan took the crown for the fifth time, believes it is Zhao's buccaneering style that makes him stand out.

"He's got something extra about him, there's a swagger about him when he's at the table," said Hawkins, who last week became an ambassador for the K Sports multi-sports facility in Kent.

"He's fearless ... probably a little too fearless at the moment.

"Any pot he sees, he goes for. Once he learns the tactical side a bit more he'll be a handful for everybody.

"To give Ronnie a game at his age, and show no fear the way he did, was brilliant. Other snooker players enjoy watching Zhao play, just like they do with Ronnie. And everyone on tour already knows how dangerous an opponent he is."

O'Sullivan was equally impressed with Zhao after edging past the teenager at the English Open.

"I enjoyed watching him," said the 40-year-old Englishman widely recognized as the most naturally gifted snooker player in the history of the game.

"He is such a wonderful player, such a wonderful scorer. He has such a wonderful technique ... and he's got every shot in the book."

Zhao is currently ranked No 85 in the world and likely will need to go through pre-qualifying in order to secure a place at the world championship in April.

Hawkins, by contrast, is looking to maintain a proud appearance record at the Crucible.

"I need to be in the top 16 by the time the world championship comes around to avoid having to pre-qualify," he said.

"From now until then I could do with winning a tournament or at least being ultra consistent, getting to quarterfinals and semifinals to solidify my place in the top 16.

"If I don't get to Sheffield I'll be absolutely gutted ... especially with the record I have. I've been to the Crucible for the last 10 or 11 years so that's definitely something I'd like to keep up."

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