Yesterday saw the conclusion of the 2013 International Championship, the second year of the event held in Chengdu, China.
It was another successful staging of a tournament that is quickly becoming one of the most prestigious on the calendar.
Even though it is still a fledgling initiative, the International has easily surpassed its Chinese counterpart competitions, the China Open and Shanghai Masters, in terms of importance.
It might not be referenced just yet as the sport’s official fourth major, but one feels that it is only a matter of time before that label is attributed.
So what did we learn after another week of top-level snooker?
Ding’s the Main Thing
Unquestionably, undeniably, Ding Junhui is the best player in the world at this moment in time.
The 26 year-old may still only be ranked third in a two-year collective ranking system but his form of late has been nothing short of outstanding.
Ding became the first player for two decades to win three consecutive ranking event titles when he pipped Marco Fu in a nail-biter last night – emulating Stephen Hendry’s feat in 1993.
Next in his sights may be Hendry’s overall record, when he rampaged and won five on the bounce in 1990.
Ding deserves all the plaudits he is getting for a memorable run that has seen him capture the Shanghai Masters, Indian Open and now the International.
His hat-trick has seen his ranking tally rise to nine, on a par with former world champions John Parrott and Peter Ebdon, and one behind People’s Champion Jimmy White.
Ding is only 26.
Indeed, the Chinese Sensation ought to be considered the new People’s Champion, following in the footsteps of the ‘Whirlwind’ and the ‘Hurricane’ Alex Higgins such is his overwhelming popularity in his home nation, and abroad too.
Ding is certainly creating a storm of his own as he begins to dominate in an era where most said it was impossible to do so, such is the high level of standard throughout the circuit.
How long he can keep this up for is unknown, but he will start the upcoming UK Championship in York as the hot favourite and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him add a third crown in that event to his collection.
Ding began his career full of potential and lived up to it until his youthful temperament got the better of him in high-profile encounters.
A new man now, with both offensive and defensive attributes of the highest level, Ding is arguably becoming the most dangerous player in a generation.
Before the Shanghai Masters, there had never been an all-Asian ranking event final. There has now been three on the trot.
Naturally, given the record, Ding has emerged victorious in all three but, in the Australian Open final before that, Marco Fu lifted the trophy in a final against Australia’s Neil Robertson.
Prior to that, Robertson won the Wuxi Classic in China against John Higgins – the only British player to appear in a final so far during this campaign.
This is unprecedented territory. So does it spell the end of the UK dominance of the sport?
The short answer is yes, but not completely.
The UK and Ireland have always traditionally been the source of the greatest snooker players – a few exceptions aside.
With the steady influx of Asian players, particularly from China but also India and Thailand, and with popularity growing in the two former countries especially, it was only a matter of time before more sustained success was achieved.
But the UK still boasts some fantastic players, many of whom are young with bright futures ahead of them.
Kyren Wilson, Jack Lisowski and Michael White are to name but three, and it is easy to forget that Judd Trump, despite his recent troubles, still has untapped pedigree at only 24.
Season on season, all the events will be shared around more evenly from now on but just because the Asian continent is enjoying this surge in success does not mean it will last forever.
The Long Run
A lot of people were disappointed with the amount of shock results in the International Championship that led to the bigger names being dumped out earlier than expected.
But nobody should have had any qualms with the pair of semi-final clashes and the subsequent final between Ding and Marco Fu.
All three were played over a two-session format, similar to that used at the UK Championship, and fans were rewarded with a trio of superb encounters under the longer guise.
Best of 17 and 19 frame ties allow for greater narratives to develop and offers the opportunity for comebacks, meltdowns and late-night drama.
Obviously, not every tournament should be played with so many frames – there’s simply not enough time to facilitate so many events under that system at any rate – but there is scope to suggest that one or two further events could utilise the format.
The excitement garnered from Fu and Joe Perry’s first semi-final, the last four clash between Ding and Graeme Dott and the subsequent pulsating, topsy-turvy final bout would not and could not be generated in a best of 7 or 9 duel.
There is a pretty good mix of tournaments at the moment but an extra event like the International wouldn’t go amiss – particularly in the second half of the season in the build up to the Crucible.