The 2021 UK Championship final will be contested between Zhao Xintong and Luca Brecel at the Barbican Centre in York on Sunday.
A thrilling climax to an unpredictable tournament is in store with two of the sport’s hottest young talents finally emerging onto the major scene.
Fans and analysts have been waxing lyrical about Zhao for the best part of a decade, while it’s been even longer that Belgium’s Brecel has been touted as a dominant force.
On Saturday, the pair produced scintillating performances to upset the remaining top-16 seeds in the draw, with Brecel compiling four centuries in a masterclass 6-4 beating of Kyren Wilson and Zhao later hammering Barry Hawkins 6-1.
There are so many reasons to be excited for this UK Championship final – the 2021 edition marking the combined youngest in a decade with 26 year-old Brecel taking on 24 year-old Zhao for the £200,000 top prize.
Marking only the second time that two non-UK players will vie for the crown, it’s also the first time that both finalists are ranked outside the world’s top 16.
By the end of this title-deciding affair, one of the duo will have changed that and risen into the elite bracket just in time to secure an invitation to next month’s prestigious Masters at the Alexandra Palace in London.
Irrespective of all the stats, it represents a potentially huge moment for a sport that has been desperately craving for a new breed to orchestrate its breakthrough.
For several seasons the game has been dominated by the same familiar faces, many of whom are now approaching 40 or even well beyond that mark.
The 2021 UK Championship final provides more than just a spark of hope for the future with two charismatic competitors with youth on their side set to battle it out for glory in what is the second-oldest ranking event.
Is this the start of a new era in snooker…
— Judd Trump (@judd147t) December 4, 2021
Ronnie O’Sullivan has compared Zhao to Roger Federer, while Brecel himself admitted on Saturday that the former World Amateur Championship runner-up is his “favourite player by far”.
The Belgian Bullet will have to put those sentiments to one side as he bids to add to his China Championship success from 2017 in Guangzhou, with Zhao bidding for a maiden piece of silverware at this level.
If the duo can muster up the same standards that they managed in the last four, the crowd at the Barbican Centre will be in for a real treat.
The pressure of the occasion may dictate otherwise, of course, but either way this promises to be an intriguing showdown that could further highlight the beginnings of a new era that was arguably launched at the start of this calendar year when Yan Bingtao triumphed in the Masters.
Brecel leads the head-to-head 3-1, but neither has featured in a match of this magnitude before, and it may well come down to which player can be the most adept at holding his nerve.
One thing is for absolute sure – it’s a final that’s not to be missed.
Live coverage of the 2021 UK Championship final is on the BBC and Eurosport. Click here for other available options around the world.
Featured photo credit: WST
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What this final and Bingtao’s rise perhaps indicate is the future of snooker is going to be far less British-centric. The young talent from Britain is likely to only emerge in small numbers over the next two decades given the pool of players is getting smaller due to the decreased numbers playing the sport in the UK.
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