Ahead of the upcoming World Championship, let’s have a look at how the top 16 seeds have been getting on during the interrupted 2019/20 campaign.
As the UK champion, Ding Junhui’s season has a successful look about it at first glance, but overall it’s been another frustrating term for the Chinese number one.
Ding’s glory in York came completely out of the blue, with nothing about his form before or after suggesting why he should have emerged with the champion’s cheque at the Barbican Centre.
The reason, of course, is that the 33 year-old is capable of producing extremely high levels of play that can mix it with the very best in the world.
Everything came together perfectly just before Christmas as he beat the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan en route to the UK Championship final, before edging out Stephen Maguire to collect the £200,000 top prize.
Victory represented his first ranking event title in more than two years, taking his career tally to an impressive 14.
Yet, the majority of Ding’s other displays this season, and even before that, have left a lot to be desired.
Prior to the UK Championship, Ding suffered first-round exits in three of the five ranking events he participated in.
If he was supposed to be buoyed by his return to the winner’s enclosure, nobody seemed to inform the former Masters champion as he has endured a similarly barren spell of results since the New Year as well.
A run to the last 16 of the Welsh Open was an unusual trip passed the early rounds of a tournament, and he has often cut a despondent figure slumped in his chair.
Missing the lucrative Tour Championship, opting to withdraw instead of taking the risk of travelling back to the UK in June, provided a blow in terms of his ranking position too.
There is a growing sense, though, that Ding Junhui’s season revolves around his prolonged attempts at winning the big one in Sheffield.
The 2016 Crucible runner-up is regarded as the best player in the current era to have so far failed to etch his name onto the world trophy.
Watching on as Judd Trump mesmorisingly romped his way to a maiden triumph last year will have heaped additional pressure onto Ding’s shoulders.
Not that he hasn’t been feeling that burden for quite some time already, with fans and media back in China desperate to see their star fulfill his potential on the greatest stage of all.
Like many of the Chinese contingent, Ding reportedly suffered a nightmare getting back to his homeland at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and he’ll be forced to quarantine again upon return to the UK this month.
How that will affect his preparations is unknown, but some commentators reckon that the lack of a crowd at the Crucible could be beneficial for a player whose temperament is fragile even at the best of times.
Ding is still relatively young in snooker terms, but he has been around for what seems like forever and there are only so many times that you can try, fail, and keep coming back for more.
That UK win reminded everyone – maybe even Ding himself – what he is capable of, but can he sustain it when it matters most?
Former world champions O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, and Stuart Bingham all feature in Ding’s tough quarter of the draw, so it’s likely going to be a battle from the off.
Featured photo credit: WPBSA