Ding Junhui has looked a million dollars so far in this year’s Malta Cup.
He kicked off with three successive centuries against Peter Ebdon and made another at the start of his match with Graeme Dott, even though he was eventually held to 3-3.
Ding again impressed today in beating Dominic Dale 4-2 and I’d be amazed if he didn’t get at least a draw – all he needs – to qualify for the semi-finals on Friday.
The Chinese prodigy suffered a dip in form last year after losing the Wembley Masters final to Ronnie O’Sullivan but this was always going to be a mere blip in form.
He’s far too good a player for it not to be.
Let’s not forget that Ding’s still only 20 and has already won three ranking titles.
He has, quite naturally, found it difficult to adjust to life far from home in Sheffield, where he lives and practises, and also has to cope with the huge weight of expectation from his army of fans back in China.
How he handles this in the next year or two is up for debate but what isn’t in dispute is his remarkable talent.
Watch how quickly he gets the reds open. Study his face and you can almost see his mind ticking over as he weighs up how to get a break going.
Here’s what Daniel Wells, recipient of the Paul Hunter scholarship who has been practising with Ding, told me for an interview in February’s Snooker Scene:
“I lose pretty much all of the time to Ding but I still learn a lot from picking out the balls.
“He’s very good at knowing when to go into the pack and figuring out which ball he’ll be on. He’s an expert at it. There’s only a few in the world who are that good.
“So I don’t mind picking the balls out for him because it’s an education and my standard has improved.”
Ding has a good chance to win the Malta Cup but I personally think the place to watch out for him this season is at the Crucible.
The first Asian world champion? The youngest ever winner?