The 16 Seeds: Ding Junhui
Continuing our series of Cazoo World Championship previews, over the coming days Phil Yates and David Hendon will be assessing the Crucible prospects of each of the top 16. First up, Phil considers whether Asia’s greatest player can fulfil his biggest ambition.
Seed 16: Ding Junhui
There is a rational argument, given the immense market he single-handedly opened up, to suggest Ding Junhui is the most influential figure in snooker history.
The tour radically branched out after an 18 year-old Ding sparked the Chinese green baize revolution by beating Stephen Hendry 9-5 to capture the 2005 China Open title before an adoring crowd in Beijing.
Eight months later, Ding lifted the UK Championship trophy for the first time and his place in the upper echelon of sporting heroes from the People’s Republic was secured.
Ding also prevailed at the 2011 Masters and is a 14-time ranking event champion, including a then record five triumphs during his golden 2013/14 season. However, the most recent of his three UK Championship successes represents his lone title in six years.
By standards previously set, Ding’s season has not been stellar but his appearance in the UK Championship final stamped his passport to the elite eight-man Tour Championship.
Even then, seeding for the Crucible was uncertain, but reaching the semi-finals in Hull, at the expense of Mark Allen, provided sufficient ranking points to avoid the qualifying dogfight.
Add to that his 8-6 victory over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the final of the Thailand-hosted World Six-Reds Championship last month and it is crystal clear his career is again on the up.
Having plunged deep into the 30s on the world list, Ding is re-established in the top 16, his comprehensive 6-0 whitewash of Ronnie O’Sullivan in their UK quarter-final proof, if any were required, of continued class.
Although a Crucible ever present since 2007, Ding had teething problems on his initial forays to the ultimate battleground. His first four visits all fizzled out in dejection for his army of supporters.
Naysayers insisted he would never prosper amidst the Crucible’s unique atmosphere but all of that changed in 2011. Helped by hard fought victories over Stuart Bingham (13-12) and Mark Selby (13-10) Ding was propelled to the semi-finals.
That run was repeated in 2017, Ding also graced three additional quarter-finals but 2016 was the year when the grand old trophy so nearly went east.
Outstanding from the outset, Ding constructed 15 centuries, grittily and fluently ousting Martin Gould, Judd Trump, Mark Williams, and Alan McManus before meeting his match against Mark Selby with the title on the line.
Thanks to his total of 72 centuries, he is ninth on the Crucible’s all-time list. Only Stephen Hendry, with 16 in 2002, has compiled more during a single championship.
Previous Crucible appearances: 16
Matches played: 37
Matches won: 21
Crucible centuries: 72
Encouraging recent form, ample experience and his renowned mastery of the cue-ball are all major plusses in Sheffield, for many a year Ding’s English-base.
Class and past achievements mark him out as a dark horse for a triumph that, if bagged, would reverberate around the snooker world.
Hoping someone makes a powerful impact and believing they will are two different things. Working on the premise that his second-round opposition will be supplied by a titan, last 16 might well be Ding’s ceiling this year.
Bookmakers’ odds on Ding: 20/1