Zhao Xintong thrashed Barry Hawkins 6-1 at the Cazoo UK Championship to set up a final between two of snooker’s most electrifying young talents.
China’s Zhao needed just 100 minutes to dismiss the challenge of experienced Hawkins, making a century and five more breaks over 70 in a masterclass of potting and positional play.
On Sunday, over 19 frames, the 24-year-old will face Belgium’s 26-year-old Luca Brecel for one of snooker’s biggest titles and a £200,000 top prize. In an era dominated by the older guard, it’s a showcase for the sport’s next generation. As Zhao himself put it: “It could be a beautiful game.”
World number 26 Zhao will be playing in his first ranking final – his only previous semi-final appearance came at the 2018 China Championship. Victory would make him the fourth player from mainland China to win a ranking event, after Ding Junhui, Liang Wenbo and Yan Bingtao. Whoever comes out on top in the final will become the fourth non-British player to win the UK Championship, after Ding, Neil Robertson and Patsy Fagan.
As an added bonus, the champion will also climb into the world’s top 16 and earn a place at the Cazoo Masters in London next month. Zhou Yuelong had held 16th spot but he is now out of that race. The draw for that event will be made on Sunday afternoon.
Breaks of 78, 78 and 100 got Zhao off to a fast start tonight with a 3-0 lead. Hawkins had a clear chance in frame four but on 22 he under-hit a red to a top corner, leaving it short of the pocket. Another run of 78 from Zhao put him 4-0 ahead at the interval.
Frame five came down to a safety battle on the final green, and an error from Zhao, failing to snooker his opponent, allowed Hawkins to pot the green to a centre pocket and clear the table to pull one back.
But a quickfire 74 from Zhao put him 5-1 ahead, and in frame seven a superb long red set him up for a run of 81 to seal the result.
“I played well today, better than yesterday,” said Zhao, who is based in Sheffield during the season. “Jimmy White spoke to me, telling me to concentrate today, so I have to thank him. I was just thinking one ball at a time. It’s so exciting, I’m very happy.
“Tomorrow is a very important match for me and I’m so close to the title. Luca is a great player and I think it could be a beautiful game. His style is very quick and he is a young player. When I was 13 he was already world famous.
“I am a little bit nervous, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I hope I can sleep well tonight.”
Hawkins, who has now lost 20 of his 27 ranking event semi-finals, said: “Obviously I’m gutted. I started off too slowly, got in first a couple of times and just didn’t score. He fed off my of mistakes and then he grew in confidence and played fantastic at the end – every mistake I made was magnified.
“He scores quickly and he’s such a great potter, my safety wasn’t quite tight enough. There are a lot of positives from the week, I’ve made a semi-final in a big tournament.”
The final starts at 1pm with eight frames, with the balance to be played from 7pm.