After each big tournament this season we’ll be reflecting on the latest action, so let’s take a look at a few things learned after the UK Championship.
Ding the Destroyer
A brimming Ding Junhui walked away with the UK Championship trophy on Sunday night after a brilliant display earned him a fourth career Triple Crown success.
Less than three months ago in this feature piece following the Shanghai Masters, I wrote about the depths of despair Ding had plummeted into.
“Long gone are the days when the 32 year-old was considered as a credible threat in the bigger tournaments,” opined the duped author.
“It appears like only a matter of time that he’ll officially fall out of the elite bracket again.”
“Ding’s overall play has become slow, defensive, and turgid to watch – a far cry from the champion who won a record-equalling five ranking titles in the 2013/14 campaign.
“The former Masters champion’s record against fellow top 16 members makes for dismal reading with just one victory over a player of such status in ranking events since the beginning of last season.”
It later came to my attention that the comments in the article had made their way into Chinese media, surfacing in an article written by reporter Alex Xie that tallied more than 4,000 replies, creating a bit of a stir with Ding’s legion of dutiful followers.
How pleased I am to be proven wrong, because there’s no doubting the fact that Ding belongs at the top table of the sport.
Whether or not he will be able to discover the kind of consistency required to challenge for the major pieces of silverware on a regular basis obviously remains to be seen.
But at the very least he has announced himself on the main stage as a member of the highest echelons again.
Ding, particularly after his last 16 dismantling of reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, appeared a completely different competitor compared to the sombre soul that frequented most venues throughout the last two years.
A clenched fist and a “come on” at the end of his 10-6 defeat of Maguire endeared him to many in a fashion that he has rarely demonstrated in the past.
Ding could hang up his cue now and be regarded as one of China’s iconic sportsmen but there’s still one more box to tick.
All eyes will be fixed again in his direction by the time the Crucible comes around for the World Championship in April.
🗣 “I just didn’t believe in myself”
Ding Junhui won the @betway UK Championship title tonight!
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker) December 8, 2019
Snooker’s Just a Game
BBC commentator Dennis Taylor loves his soundbites wrapped around a cliché, and one of them is that “snooker’s a young man’s game”.
Young compared to you maybe, Den.
If there’s one thing we can be sure of after the UK Championship it’s that snooker can be played well by people of all ages.
At just 19, Yan Bingtao became the first teenager since Ding more than a decade ago to reach the semi-final stage of a Triple Crown event.
Nigel Bond, a healthy 35 years Yan’s senior, in turn became the oldest cueist since 1980 to embark on a run to the last eight.
The young blood is undoubtedly emerging from China the most and they will help to keep the game fresh in the future.
But the majority of stars at the top of the sport, who are predominantly in their 30s and 40s, are more than capable of banging in the reds and blacks long after the greys of old age permanently set in.
No disrespect to Bond, who has carved out a nice career for himself, but if he can play that well at 54 then think about how the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins might fare when they get to that age.
Mark Williams, the third member of Snooker’s Trinity, has given off the impression recently that retirement could be on the horizon, but the Welshman might change his tune after seeing the direction the sport is going in – with a £2.5 million event scheduled for next season in Saudi Arabia.
Yan and all those whipper snappers wouldn’t know how to handle that kind of money anyway.
New ranking event in Saudi Arabia with the winner getting £500,000 next year. https://t.co/kzAxnlpsXU
— David Caulfield (@SnookerHQ) December 8, 2019
You Can’t Buy Prestige
The announcement of the contract for that new ranking event in Riyadh, which will span ten years, will have people talking long after the UK Championship.
It’s a momentous piece of business made by World Snooker and the £500,000 winner’s cheque brings it on a par with the prize that will be awarded to this season’s world champion.
Indeed, the jackpot completely dwarfs the £200,000 that Ding collected for his triumph on Sunday.
It continues the recent trend of international events boasting enormous prize funds, with the revamped China Open fronting a long list of rich competitions in Ding’s homeland.
Yet, you can’t buy history and the UK Championship underlined once again why it remains one of the sport’s very best events.
A fixture on the snooker calendar since 1977, the second oldest ranking event has found its new spiritual home at the wonderful Barbican Centre – host a total of 15 times this century.
Appreciative crowds pack the arena from start to finish, guaranteeing players from both home and abroad get a sense of the tournament’s importance.
There’s scope to suggest that there should be a fourth major, most definitely outside of the UK, but there’s a reason why the Triple Crown events are the ones at the top of any aspiring player’s list of dream wins.
Put simply, they have prestige that is difficult to emulate.