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Ones to Watch: Ding Junhui

There was a moment a couple of years ago when people were beginning to seriously doubt the credentials of Ding Junhui.

In the summer of 2009, the Chinese Sensation had just endured what can only be described as an atrocious season by his high standards.

It all began more than two years earlier when, believing he was invincible, he got schooled by Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of The Masters in 2007.

Not only was his 10-3 defeat crushing, his temperament and nerve completely deserted him at a time when he was still only a teenager and the reception he received from a portion of a boisterous London crowd was nothing short of shameful.

Having won three ranking events by this stage of his career already, what he thought was an embarrassment proved difficult to get over and he reached only two further quarter finals by the summer of 2009.

However, that was soon to change. A run to the last 8 at the 2009/10 season opener in Shanghai, quickly followed by a surge to the final of the Grand Prix brought the Asian star a new-found resurgence in self belief.

A month after his loss to Neil Robertson, Ding completed the turnaround with a fantastic triumph at the UK Championship – the second time he had lifted the famous trophy.

He went on to reach the final of his home event, the China Open, towards the end of the campaign and, where before he was struggling to get beyond the last 16 stage of tournaments, last season he failed to reach the quarter-finals of a ranking event on only two occasions.

Ding’s biggest triumph, though, was to be at the scene of where his slump originally began – in Wembley at the 2011 Masters.

In the first ever all-Asian final in a major snooker event, Ding outclassed Hong Kong’s Marco Fu 10-4 to put an end to speculation that his temperament was poor.

Ding’s approach to the game in the early days was poor but there is no question that he has turned a corner and is now beginning to accept that he can’t produce his A-game in every match while the reason John Higgins and Mark Williams are so successful is because of their development of B and C-games.

This was evident at the recent World Championship in Sheffield – where, incidentally, Ding lives – when he finally broke his duck of never progressing beyond Round 2 on his way to a semi-final appearance.

In the past, Ding would have panicked when Mark Selby won four frames on the trot in their last 8 encounter to tie the match at 10-10. But the 24 year-old has now the mental reserves as well as the obvious natural talent that he always boasted.

His semi-final with Judd Trump was one of the best ever seen at The Crucible and although he was narrowly defeated, Ding had answered his critics.

It is foreseeable that the dramatic clash between Trump and Ding could become commonplace in the future, beginning a new rivalry for the sport, and what a mouth-watering prospect that could be.

What has been noticeable also in the past twelve months or so is that Ding has been interacting more with other players and the crowd.

Too often in the past he would slouch in his seat with a sour face, even when he was playing well.

Yet, nowadays Ding expresses more of his character, smiles more and it is noticeable that the crowds have warmed to him at most of the big events.

His confidence will be sky-high at the moment. If his attitude and form remains as it has been over the last two campaigns then this year could be a golden one.

It is for this reason that Ding is my tip to be the star player of this year and will run those around him close for the world number one spot by the end of the season.



Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.

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