Ding Junhui, roared on by a sizeable, partisan crowd, completed a great comeback from 4-0 down to beat Ben Woollaston 5-4 in the first round of the China Open in Beijing yesterday.
Woollaston played well to get to four frames but four isn’t five in a best of nine. He could have done without the interval, which forced him to spend 15 minutes dwelling on the prospect of clinching the best TV win of his career.
Intervals were introduced into snooker for one reason and one reason only: so that the venues could sell drinks. They were never intended to help the players and in Woollaston’s case did the exact opposite, but we’ll never know if he would have won had there not been one.
Woollaston claimed after his defeat that the rowdy atmosphere “would never happen in the UK.” Maybe Ding could tell him about the 2007 Masters final at Wembley Conference Centre, where he was barracked by hostile sections of the crowd.
Personally I’m glad to see a crowd. People have sneered for long enough about the ‘myth’ of the Chinese snooker boom (people who have never been to China) but I would have thought yesterday’s pictures were proof of the acclaim in which Ding is held.
Today we have the best three players of the last 15 years in action: John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams.
Between them they have won 65 world ranking titles, including nine world titles. I suppose this holy snooker trinity are approaching veteran status but they are all still formidable on their respective days.
Higgins is yet to win a title this season. Rory McLeod is a stubborn, methodical opponent who the Scot only just scraped past at the UK Championship last December. It’s a day for patience and digging in but Higgins’s confidence can hardly be high after his performance against Jamie Jones at the PTC Grand Finals.
O’Sullivan has travelled to Beijing after missing Haikou and Galway. He also plays a tough-as-old-boots opponent in the shape of Marcus Campbell, a player who has quietly established himself as a member of the world’s top 32.
If O’Sullivan gets in and scores he could well win easily. If Campbell manages to frustrate him he may not.
Williams seems to have gone off the boil somewhat since losing 10-9 to Mark Selby in the Shanghai Masters final last September. He would doubtless argue that that defeat is not the reason for his form tailing off, and it might not be, but he doesn’t seem as sharp at the moment as he was at this point last year. Nobody seems to be tipping him for victory at the Crucible.
Williams, who has won six world ranking titles in Asia, including three in China, faces Jin Long, easily the best of the Chinese wildcards, who outlasted Fergal O’Brien yesterday.
These three legends of snooker can’t go on forever but neither are they going to disappear overnight. Perhaps they are all in slight decline but when you are as good as John, Ronnie and Mark have been then you have much further to fall than most.