NEW SEASON: YOUTH ON HIS SIDE
His World Championship semi-final with Judd Trump was a terrific battle, which he just lost, 17-15. That was an obvious disappointment but having never previously been past the last 16 at the Crucible he proved that he can handle the pressure of snooker’s most forbidding arena.
That was certainly true when he came back from 12-9 down to beat Stuart Bingham 13-12 in the second round and again in the quarter-finals when he won the last three frames to beat Mark Selby 13-10 after Selby had rallied from 6-10 to 10-10.
In the other six major ranking events Ding reached a semi-final, three quarter-finals and two last 16s, not outstanding but certainly consistent and all those points helped him finish fourth in the rankings, almost 8,000 points ahead of Neil Robertson in fifth.
Most importantly, he won the Masters, triumphing in an all-Asian final against Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
Again in this match Ding displayed an admirable temperament. He led 6-2 going into the final session before Fu reduced this to just 6-4. Fu looked certain to bring up 6-5 when Ding was left requiring a snooker on the pink in frame 11 but he got it and Fu’s failed escape turned the match back in the young man’s favour.
From there, Ding didn’t lose another frame and ran out a 10-4 winner. The Masters forms part of snooker’s ‘big three’ titles. Ding already has two UK Championship crowns and will be among the favourites to become world champion next year.
And he still has time on his side. He seems to have been around a long time. Indeed, I first saw him play at the 2002 China Open in Beijing where, as a 14 year-old wildcard, he took two frames off Selby.
Ding is still only 24 and therefore possibly yet to hit his peak. When he is John Higgins’s age, Higgins will be 48 and no doubt cleaning up in the World Seniors Championship.
Ding’s talent has never been an issue, it’s been controlling his temperament or, rather, dealing with things when they go wrong.
He was disciplined for smashing the pack at an EPTC (or actually for that well known crime of failing to report an illness) but when he had to dig in last season – as at the Crucible – he generally did.
It’s worth remembering as well that Ding is also a long, long way from home, although he seems nicely settled in the UK now.
There’s no doubt that Ding is one of a handful of players capable of sustained spells of really sublime snooker at the very highest level.
His break-building is, at times, a joy to watch. He’s averaged just over 26 centuries per season so far, a rate of scoring behind only Ronnie O’Sullivan (33) and Stephen Hendry (29).
There’s surely much more to come from him. The final session of his match with Trump at the Crucible was the most watched sporting event in China this year up to that point.
If he wins the thing next year he really will lift off into the sporting stratosphere.