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Star Of The East

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Ding Junhui won professional snooker’s first ever all-Asian final by beating Marco Fu 10-4 to win the Ladbrokes Mobile Masters.

Ten of millions of fans around the world, particularly in China where the sport is booming, watched Ding win his first Masters title with a superb display of break-building at Wembley Arena.

The 23-year-old from Wuxi in the Jiangsu Province of China, who has been based in Sheffield for eight years, collected a cheque for £150,000 – his biggest pay-day – and the gleaming trophy at the climax of snooker’s most prestigious invitation event.

Hong Kong’s Fu trailed 6-2 after the first session and briefly threatened a fight-back when he won the first two frames this evening then led by 16 points on the pink in the next. But, crucially, Ding laid a brilliant snooker on the pink and won the frame to go 7-4 up, and from that moment there was only one winner. Ding made a century and seven more breaks over 60 during the final.

Ding has won four ranking events – including two UK Championship titles – but may consider this his proudest moment. It was a historic match for snooker as the first professional final between two Asian players, highlighting the gradual shift to the east of snooker’s power base. He also laid to rest the ghost of 2007, when he lost 10-3 in the Wembley final to Ronnie O’Sullivan and finished the match in tears.

The nest step for Ding must be to improve his record at the Betfred.com World Championship – where he has never been beyond the last 16.

Fu has a fine record against the top players but made too many mistakes today – particularly in the first session when he struggled to get going. Since winning the Grand Prix in 2007 he has missed out on two bigger BBC titles – losing in the UK Championship final to Shaun Murphy in 2008 and to Ding today. The 33-year-old can console himself with a cheque for £75,000.

Needing a strong start tonight to put pressure on his opponent, Fu rattled in breaks of 69 and 56 to win the first two frames and reduce his deficit to 6-4.

In the pivotal 11th frame, Fu trapped his opponent in a tricky snooker on the yellow, which Ding failed to escape from five times. Fu then cleared from yellow to blue to leave his opponent needing a snooker, but elected to play safe on the pink rather than attempt a long pot. Ding clipped the pink and brought the cue ball around the angles to finish behind the black – perhaps the shot of the tournament. With the pink close to the green corner, Fu tried to escape at pace, but sent the white whistling into the baulk pocket, allowing Ding to pot pink and black for 7-4.

Fu scored just 23 points in the remainder of the match as clinical Ding rifled in breaks of 94, 83 and 85 to finish the contest in style.

“When he got to 6-4 he was playing well, and I had lost my cue action,” said World No 4 Ding. “I was lucky to go 7-4 ahead, that made a big difference. It was the most important frame, it changed everything. I was more confident after that.”

Questioned about his surprisingly poor record at the Crucible, Ding added: “I need more experience in the long matches. I tend to lose concentration for two or three frames so I need to learn how to keep playing well for longer. I will try to at least get to the quarter-finals this year but it is so hard.

“I’m not worrying about that now. I’ve got confidence for the next tournament.”

Fu said: “I started to play well this evening and won two frames quickly. In the 11th frame I should have tried to pot the pink. I played safe and messed it up, then he played a superb shot to snooker me. I knew he was under pressure, but winning that frame helped his confidence.

“I didn’t feel good in the first session. The game was too tough for me and the damage was done.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before Ding wins the world title. It’s the toughest tournament to win, but give him a few more years and he could do it.”