Ding Junhui played superbly in the closing stages to beat John Higgins 10-8 in the final of the Pukka Pies UK Championship.
The 22-year-old from China broke a sequence of 40 months without a ranking title as he won the fourth of his career – joining Neil Robertson as the most successful players from outside Britain and Ireland in snooker history.
Ding has now beaten four of the sport’s all-time greats in ranking finals, having seen off Stephen Hendry to win the 2005 China Open, Steve Davis to win the 2005 UK title, Ronnie O’Sullivan at the 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy and now Higgins.
He became one of only seven players to have won the UK title on more than one occasion as, joined by mum Chen Xi Juan, he collected a cheque for £100,000 in a packed International Centre in Telford.
It was a tight final, with never more than one frame between them until Ding pulled ahead at 9-7, after a pivotal moment in the 15th frame when Higgins missed the easiest of browns when poised to go 8-7 up. The Wizard of Wishaw looked jaded for much of the contest, surely affected by the adrenaline surge of his nail-biting semi-final victory over O’Sullivan last night.
Higgins has certainly been the most consistent player in the world this year, having reached at least the semi-finals of the last five ranking events, but snooker’s best safety player was matched in that department today by Ding, and did not score heavily enough with the chances that came his way. Betfred.com World Champion Higgins therefore missed out on becoming the only player other than Hendry and Davis to do the World and UK double in the same year more than once.
After winning three ranking titles before his 20th birthday, Ding’s confidence was shattered when he was beaten 10-3 by O’Sullivan in the 2007 Masters final, finishing the match in tears. It has taken some time for him to repair that confidence – and a run to the final of the Grand Prix in October followed by tonight’s victory has seen the player from Wuxi re-establish himself as a young prospect of huge potential.
A fragmented opening frame tonight was resolved when Higgins missed a straight black off its spot at 22-46. Ding took advantage by clearing the last two reds to go 5-4 ahead.
Higgins got the better of the next with a top break of 42, then Ding edged ahead at 6-5 with a 50 before Higgins responded with a 91 for 6-6.
After the mid-session interval, Higgins went ahead for the first time in the match with runs of 42 and 26. But a missed thin cut on a blue early in frame 14 allowed Ding to knock in a 74 for 7-7.
Frame 15 came down to the last red, Higgins failing to escape from a snooker twice but then fluking the red with his third attempt. He looked certain to clear the table until he missed a simple frame-ball brown, allowing Ding to dish up and edge ahead once more.
Higgins led 49-0 in the next, but Ding clawed his way back to within seven points, then executed brilliant long pots on the yellow and green and cleared to the pink to move to the brink of victory at 9-7.
First among the balls in frame 17, Ding could only make 18 before running out of position. Higgins had not potted a ball for 25 minutes at that point, but he shrugged off the cobwebs to fire in a superb long red and compile a 115 – the first century of the match – to halve the defecit.
Higgins had a chance to make it 9-9 but missed a short-range red on 27. Ding compiled an excellent 75, and finished the job after a safety exchange by potting the last red.