The last 64 round concluded in Guangzhou today and, just like yesterday, most matches went as you would expect, the highest seeded player winning. Not all of them though.
Luo Honghao defeated Ricky Walden, by 5-4, in a match that had four centuries – two each – and a 98. That’s not really a shock. The match was close obviously and Luo is a very good young player.
The other lower seeded player to get a win was Zhao Xintong, who defeated Ding Junhui by 5-3. It is the first time that Zhao manages to beat Ding and it’s far from being inconsequential. Indeed, today’s defeat means that Ding now drops out of the top 16, and that Yan Bingtao, provisionally up to n°15, becomes the Chinese n°1. Psychologically, this may be important. It may take a burden off Ding’s shoulders … or it may push him even more into negativity, only time will tell. But for the young Chinese, it’s a sign that, yes, they can do it. It may definitively break that invisible but very real barrier that holds them back when playing their national hero. I was impressed by Zhao today. The way he won the first frame, needing snookers, was a telling moment. He wasn’t faultless, there were still rash shots and unexpected misses, but overall he looked more mature, more solid, more adult.
Regarding Ding … the mathematician in me can’t help but notice what is at best a very strange statistical anomaly. Ding has played 9 matches in main tour events this season, not counting the six-reds World Championship. On 5 out 9 occasions, his opponent was another Chinese player. Had he won today, his next opponent would have been Xiao Guodong… bringing that stat to 6 in 10. Now there are 23 Chinese players on the tour, Ding included., that’s 22 possible Chinese opponents out of 127 in total. Even taking into account the fact that most are young and low ranked, therefore more likely to face him – top 64 – in early rounds, anything above 3 in 10 in a quasi-random draw is a statistical oddity. I’m not sure what to make of this but it’s extremely puzzling.
Update: I’m told that this event, and the International Championship don’t have a random draw at all, it’s strictly by seeding. In this case, indeed, Ding was always going to play Zhao, should they both win their first match, with the winner to play Xiao should he win his first two matches. So, unlikely as it seemed at first, there is an explanation to the above oddity.
Zhao Xintong defeated Ding Junhui for the first time in his career, winning 5-3 to reach the last 32 of the Evergrande China Championship in Guangzhou.
Defeat for Ding sees him drop out of the world’s top 16 for the first time since April 2016. On that occasion he returned to the world’s top echelon by going on an epic run to the Crucible final, where he was runner-up to Mark Selby.
Ding is currently in 9th position in the world rankings. However, due to the two-year rolling format, he loses the £150,000 he earned by winning the 2017 World Open, which is the corresponding event on the calendar. That was the last time Ding won a ranking title, when he defeated Kyren Wilson 10-3 in the final.
The main contenders to replace Ding in the world’s top 16 are Yan Bingtao and Joe Perry. Yan is currently in pole position in the latest provisional rankings and looks likely to oust Ding as Chinese number one.
Zhao came into today having lost all four of his previous meetings with legendary 13-time ranking event winner Ding. The 22-year-old reached his maiden ranking semi-final at last year’s China Championship. That run saw him beat the likes of Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins on his way to the last four.
Ding had looked set to take the opening frame today after a break of 70 had left his opponent requiring a snooker. However, Zhao extracted the foul he needed and eventually edged the frame on the black. They then traded the next three frames to head into the mid-session interval level at 2-2.
When they returned a break of 66 saw Zhao regain the lead at 3-2, before he claimed the sixth frame on the black to move one from victory.
Ding battled on and kept himself in it at 4-3. However, Zhao got himself over the line to secure a momentous victory. He will face another compatriot, Xiao Guodong in the last 32.
Zhao said: “It was a strange match because I think he played better and had more decent breaks. I felt nervous throughout the game because of the crowd. On the other hand Ding was relaxed. Towards the end I think he felt a bit edgy.
“Guangzhou is a city I know well so I’m feeling comfortable, especially as this is the venue where I reached my first semi-final. I had dinner with Xiao Guodong the other day. He is another top Chinese player that I know very well.”
World Champion Judd Trump secured a 5-0 whitewash defeat of Mike Dunn to book his place in the last 32.
The Ace in the Pack has now won his last 14 matches in ranking competition. That streak includes tournament wins at the International Championship and the Crucible. His last ranking event loss came against Robbie Williams at the China Open back in April.
Trump said: “Hopefully I can do the job here. I have never won this tournament so it is a new challenge to try and do well in this one.
“We are still early in the season. Everyone is fighting for confidence and you want to be that player in form coming to all of the events. It is about keeping the momentum going for me. I don’t want to drop off before events like the UK Championship and the Masters come around.”
World number eight Kyren Wilson was also a whitewash victor, defeating Robbie Williams 5-0.
Wilson suffered an agonising 6-5 loss against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the recent Shanghai Masters having led 5-1. However, there were no signs of a dent to his confidence. The Warrior fired in breaks of 81, 101, 116 and 53 on his way to this evening’s win.
Recent Shanghai Masters runner-up Shaun Murphy continued his fine run of form with a 5-3 win over Yuan Sijun. While Australia’s Neil Robertson defeated Zhao Jianbo 5-1.
For full results click here.
No quotes from Ding then, yet every time Ronnie loses the press wants to hear from him, and I’m sure it will be the same this season for Judd. Oh well …