Fan Zhengyi beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-9 to claim the 2022 European Masters title at the Marshall Arena on Sunday.
The 21 year-old, ranked 80 in the world and a 750/1 outsider at the start of the week, produced a gutsy display to deny the six-time world champion.
O’Sullivan was nowhere near his best and the final, although at times dramatic, lacked in the highest quality for significant spells.
But Fan orchestrated a performance that defied his low ranking in what was his maiden ranking event final on the World Snooker Tour.
After losing the opening frame, the young Chinese competitor was never again behind and continued to respond to the Rocket’s persistent efforts to get back into the contest.
Fan led 2-1, 4-2, 6-4, 8-6, and 9-8, only for his esteemed opponent to reel him in and restore parity on each occasion.
The former world under-21 champion, who began the evening session with a brilliant blitz of back-to-back century breaks, appeared to miss balls at crucial times when granted the opportunity to pull further clear.
However, to his ultimate credit Fan never allowed that to affect him mentally and his steely temperament stayed strong throughout.
In the final frame, Fan was presented with a golden chance to clinch victory – one that he took with open arms courtesy of a nerveless run of 92.
Success caps a wonderful weekend in what has been a remarkable season overall for the Victoria Snooker Academy in Sheffield.
Si Jiahui, who shares a flat with Fan in the city, captured the WSF Championship on Saturday to regain his place on the professional tour.
UK champion Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, who contested the German Masters final together last month, also hail from the academy that seems to be churning out a conveyor belt of winning talent at present.
For O’Sullivan, it was a disappointing display that failed to live up to the standard he produced in the earlier rounds.
A record-extending 39th ranking crown eluded him, and for the second successive year he has unexpectedly lost a close title decider to a player ranked 78 places below him in the rankings.
In 2021, the same outcome materialised when he was denied in the Welsh Open final by Northern Ireland’s Jordan Brown.
Both times victory for the underdog was fully deserved, though, and Fan can celebrate a memorable European Masters triumph in which he boasted defeats over two former world champions and five proven ranking event winners in all.
With £80,000 in his pocket, Fan will rise into the top 32 in the world rankings for the first time and yet another contender from China has announced himself as a genuine threat to the established order.
Featured photo credit: WST