China’s Zhao Xintong has won the 2021 UK Championship after a superb 10-5 victory over Luca Brecel in York on Sunday.
The 24 year-old claimed his maiden ranking event with an excellent display, particularly in the second session when he pulled away from his opponent with a flurry of heavy scoring.
In addition to capturing the first Triple Crown title of the 2021/22 snooker season and the whopping £200,000 champion’s cheque, Zhao also rises into the top 16 in the world rankings in time to gain an invitation to next month’s prestigious Masters at the Alexandra Palace.
It was an entertaining UK Championship final that was played in a good spirit between both Zhao and Brecel, who between them represented the combined youngest finalists since 2011.
Zhao got off to the perfect start, dispelling the nerves by knocking in a long red en route to a tidy opening contribution of 79 in the first frame.
Brecel, who compiled four century breaks in a magnificent semi-final defeat of Kyren Wilson on Saturday, responded with the final’s first ton, and much of the rest of the first session remained tight between the pair.
Zhao claimed the eighth and last frame of the session with a run of 78 to lead 5-3, and upon the resumption this evening it was his ability to score heavily that proved the ultimate difference.
Rapid breaks of 87 and 120 took him 7-3 in front, and even though an unexpected missed attempt to the middle pocket allowed Brecel in for a brief reprieve, a 56 in the 12th frame meant that he went into the last mid-session interval with a four-frame advantage.
Hoping to add to his success in the China Championship from 2017, Brecel continued to fight gallantly and a break of 81 kept his hopes alive.
However, Zhao crucially won the 14th frame to move to within the brink of victory and subsequently wrapped up the contest then and there with a terrific 99.
Glory for the former World Amateur Championship runner-up is a breakthrough moment that has been in the makings for several years, and he lapped up the attention of the boisterous crowd at the Barbican Centre as he raised the prestigious trophy aloft.
Ever since turning professional in 2016, analysts and fans have been expecting this talented young contender to emerge as a member of the elite.
It may have taken slightly longer than expected, but Zhao has finally announced himself as one of the sport’s most impressive emerging stars, and the stylish manner in which he orchestrated this UK Championship triumph could indicate to even more success in the future.
Featured photo credit: WST