DING JUNHUI (China)
Years as professional: 2003-
Ranking titles: 3
Ranking finals: 4
Other titles: 1
Highest ranking: 9
Years in top 16: 3
Crucible appearances: 3
Ding’s reputation preceded him. Peter Ebdon described him as “the best 15 year-old I have ever seen” and there was much pressure on the teenager when he turned professional in 2003.
He struggled not only at the qualifiers but in the UK, an alien culture to that he had been used to in his first 16 years.
However, he beat Marco Fu on his Wembley debut in 2004 and a year later produced one of snooker’s best ever performances to land his home title.
Ding had been taken out of the qualifiers and put straight into the main draw for the 2005 China Open so that his own supporters could see him in action.
He grabbed this chance with both hands, beating Fu, Ebdon, Ken Doherty and Stephen Hendry to become the second youngest winner of a ranking title.
Ding won two more, the 2005 UK Championship and 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy, to become only the second player, after John Higgins, to capture three ranking titles while still a teenager.
He was clearly heading for the top four, for the Crucible title, for world domination.
But the pressure of carrying the hopes of the planet’s biggest populace on his young shoulders began to tell for this shy young man.
At Wembley in 2007, he made only the second maximum break in the history of the Masters but would end the final in tears trying to concede a frame early after being outplayed by Ronnie O’Sullivan and subjected to hostile treatment by the partisan crowd.
Another heavy defeat by O’Sullivan at the Crucible further knocked Ding’s confidence and he entered a slump which he is only now recovering from.
He reached the Grand Prix final earlier this month and, at 22, can still make good on all that early promise.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he topped a list such as this in ten years time.