Ding Junhui won the International Championship by beating Marco Fu 10-9 in a tremendous final in Chengdu.
It’s a historic victory for Ding as he becomes the first player since Stephen Hendry in 1993 to win three consecutive ranking titles – a feat which all-time greats like Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams have never achieved.
And the Chinese ace landed the ninth ranking title of his career, bringing him level with Peter Ebdon and John Parrott. Only Hendry, Steve Davis, O’Sullivan, Higgins, Williams and Jimmy White have won more. Age just 26, Ding will surely climb higher up the all-time list in the coming years.
His astonishing break-building skills were at the fore in a superb final as he made five centuries and a 92 in taking a 6-4 lead. Hong Kong’s Fu grew stronger in the second session and led three times in the closing straight, but eventually it was Ding who captured the £125,000 top prize, at the tournament which was introduced to the calendar last season and boasts the most prize money of any event in Asia.
This was the third ranking final in a row between two Asian players, underlining the growing influence of the continent. Ding won the Shanghai Masters in September with victory over Xiao Guodong and the Indian Open in October by beating Aditya Mehta.
Having won the UK Championship twice as well as the Masters (in 2011 when he beat Fu in the final), Ding is left with the World Championship as the only glaring omission from his snooker CV. If he can reproduce his current form in Sheffield next Spring, he will have every chance of becoming the first Chinese winner of the sport’s biggest prize.
Fu won a scrappy opening frame by potting the final pink then made a 128 to go 2-0 up. Ding pulled one back with a 108 before Fu regained his two-frame advantage. But Australian Goldfields Open winner Fu potted just two reds in the next four frames as Ding piled in breaks of 92, 138, 127 and 126.
Fu took the last frame of the opening session, but Ding was quickly into his stride in the evening session with a 108 for 6-4. Frame 11 went to Fu and he was on for a 147 in the next until he missed the 14th black on 105. A break of 71 put Fu in front at 7-6.
Ding levelled with a 65, Fu regained the lead with an 81, then Ding dominated frame 16 for 8-8. The 17th lasted 62 minutes and came down to the colours, Ding missing a tricky green which allowed Fu to edge ahead. But Ding shrugged off that blow with a 58 in the next to force the decider.
And he needed just one clear chance in the last frame as a brilliant 91 gave him the trophy.
“At the start of the match I didn’t perform my best safety shots so I gave him an early lead,” said Ding. “I felt I messed up but I did recover with a good attacking game to take back the lead before the evening session, and it gave me an advantage. Marco was really in great form and it’s anyone’s title when it’s down to the decider.
“I’m very pleased to get three in a row and hope I can do better! I’m not sure about five in a row as I’m not sure I’ll win the next one. I’m just happy to win matches and spend every day happily.
“I feel rather tired now and really need some time to rest. The tournaments have been happening frequently recently and I’m just happy to be the last one standing each time. But mentally I need a break, to relax. There’s been a lot of competition and practice. My potting, safety and long shots were not as good today, I just had a better break-building.”
Fu said: “I won a long frame to go 9-8 up and it lasted over an hour so I was a bit tired, but I didn’t lose my patience. In the last two frames I didn’t make bad mistakes, so I’m not very disappointed.
“It was a tough final and Ding played great snooker. His break-building is so good. Most of the frames I lost were not due to my mistakes, he made the most of every half-chance. So I think to get nine frames was not bad.
“In terms of break-building, I think Ding’s playing like Hendry in his prime. His ability makes me think of Hendry’s seven century breaks against Ken Doherty in the 1994 UK Championship final, plus he’s playing with great confidence now. I put him under a lot of pressure today, leading 8-7 and 9-8, but he fought back very quickly. A lot of tough shots I thought he would miss today, he didn’t. Hendry was great under pressure and Ding is kind of like that, playing even better under pressure. It’s special and very rare.”