Asia’s Best Contest International Final

Arguably the best two Asian players of all time go head-to-head for the International Championship title in Chengdu on Sunday.

Unquestionably, China’s Ding Junhui is the greatest cueman to come out of the continent, highlighted by his abundance of success at such an early age already.

And the only other player who would challenge Marco Fu of Hong Kong to second best is Thailand’s veteran hero James Wattana.

The meeting between Ding and Fu continues the recent spate of dominance from the Asian region.

This is the third all-Asian ranking event final in a row.

Ding has emerged victorious in both, in final wins over countryman Xiao Guodong and Indian Aditya Mehta in Shanghai and New Dehli respectively.

Before that, Marco Fu overcame Neil Robertson in the Australian Open after the Melbourne man himself had triumphed at the season’s opener, the Wuxi Classic.

The world no.1 defeated four-time world champion John Higgins on that day, meaning that there has only been one finalist from the United Kingdom in the first five ranking events of the season.

This is unprecedented for a group of nations that has, since the beginning of snooker’s rise in popularity in the 1970s, dominated the sport.

China’s influence on the big-time has been touted for almost a decade, with commentators suggesting year in, year out that “in five years time half of the top 16 will be Chinese.”

At first, this was naive because it was never going to be that simple for an influx of inexperienced rookies to just all break into the limelight together.

Ding remains the only player inside the elite bracket of rankings but his victory at the Shanghai Masters, coupled with Xiao’s run to the final, has initiated a sudden burst of confidence in Asia, but particularly in China.

Not only did Ding capture his second successive ranker in India, but Chinese duo Ju Reti and Liang Wenbo picked up a pair of minor ranking event titles in the Asian Tour series.

Ding, of course, is now gunning for a hat-trick of ranking events – a feat that has not been achieved since Stephen Hendry won three on the bounce in 1993.

The 26 year-old has won 18 matches on the trot and even if he does not succeed today he will still be regarded as the best player in the world at this time.

But Fu will have to play well, as he has done all week and season even, to ensure that Ding’s runs falters.

In the last couple of months, Ding has upped his game in every category.

His break-building is still as strong as ever – he has already compiled 326 career centuries – but he has added a resilient safety element and an unerring temperament to the fold.

The latter was what really held him back in his early days when petulance of youth got the better of him in many big encounters.

That said, Fu boasts a similarly excellent mindset and, a two-time ranking event winner and Premier League champion himself, is unlikely to become overawed by the occasion.

These two met in the first major all-Asian final back in 2011 when Ding claimed his maiden Masters title with a 10-4 victory over Fu in London.

Fu will be hoping to keep Ding honest in the opening session and it is key that he stays as close as possible to his opponent because Ding is usually an outstanding front-runner.

Either way, Ding and Fu have shared the last three ranking event titles and one of them is on course to capture another, prolonging Asia’s current stronghold in the sport.

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