Zhao Xintong won his first ranking title, the 2021 UK Championship, yesterday evening in York. He beat Luca Brecel by 10-5.
The match was played in great spirit, both players went for their shots, and the crowd at the Barbican gave both of them huge support.
There was also a special buzz on social media. It is clear that having two young players competing in a major final raised a lot of interest and is exactly what snooker needed.
Ronnie, Jimmy and Alan in the Eurosport studio were genuinely getting excited. Whatever some want to believe all three of them love their sport and are delighted to see young talents come through, and young talents from outside UK as well because in a global world, snooker needs to become really global.
We are now in a situation where two out of three “Triple Crowns” are held by youngsters from China. That comes after the amateur under-18 European Championship was contested between two Belgians. It’s time to break the UK centric structure of the tour.
Zhao now tops the one year list, is 9th in the World rankings and certain to play in the 2021 World Grand Prix, the 2022 Players Championship and the 2022 Tour Championship.
He will also play in the 2022 Masters of course and he will face John Higgins. Indeed the draw was made yesterday afternoon and here it is:
Sensation Zhao Is UK Champion
Electrifying young talent Zhao Xintong won his first pro title in tremendous style by beating Luca Brecel 10-5 in the final of the Cazoo UK Championship in York.
Recognised since his junior days as a massive talent, China’s Zhao has taken the first step towards fulfilling his promise by winning snooker’s second biggest ranking event. At the age of 24, he is the youngest winner of the UK Championship since Judd Trump in 2011.
The manner of Zhao’s victory underlines his potential: his break-building class, positional sophistication, pure ball striking and unflappable temperament are all attributes of great champions. Whether he can become a regular winner in the sport’s toughest era remains to be seen, but tonight’s success has the feeling of a major breakthrough for the left-hander.
Zhao, who had never previously played in a ranking final, becomes the fourth player from mainland China to win a ranking title, joining Ding Junhui, Liang Wenbo and Yan Bingtao. He is also the fourth non-British winner in the UK Championship’s 44-year history, joining Ding, Ireland’s Patsy Fagan and Australia’s Neil Robertson.
In the world rankings he leaps from 26th to tenth and earns a Cazoo Masters debut against John Higgins next month. Zhao’s other spin-offs include a spot in next year’s Cazoo Champion of Champions and almost certainly a place in all three Cazoo Series events this season.
Belgium’s Brecel was the first player from mainland Europe to compete in a Triple Crown final, but missed his chance to double his tally of ranking titles, having won the China Championship in 2017. After his tremendous display in beating Kyren Wilson 6-4 in the semi-finals with four centuries, the 26-year-old couldn’t reproduce the same level in the final and was outplayed for most of the contest. The runner-up prize of £80,000 vaults him from 40th to 18th in the rankings.
Leading 5-3 after the first session, Zhao extended his lead in the first frame tonight as a long red set up a break of 87. Brecel had a chance to counter in frame ten but made just 9 before missing the pink to a top corner, and Zhao punished him with 120, his sixth century of the tournament, to lead 7-3.
In frame 11, Zhao made 27 before missing the pink to a centre pocket, and Brecel gained a much-needed foothold with a run of 64 to close the gap. But the Belgian missed a long red early in the 12th and his opponent capitalised with a run of 56 which proved enough to go 8-4 ahead.
Brecel reduced his deficit after the interval with a break of 81. Frame 14 came down to a safety exchange and Zhao, leading 28-19, trapped his opponent in a tough snooker behind the yellow, creating the opportunity for a break of 43 which put him four up with five to play. There were no signs of nerves for Zhao and nine minutes late the contest was over as he signed off with a break of 99.
“I’m so happy tonight, it’s my dream come true,” said Zhao, nicknamed the Cyclone. “I was confident because when I practise, I think that I can do anything, so I wanted to be the champion. It was very enjoyable at the end, the moment was so nice, I will remember it.
“I think this could be my new start, I can have more confidence to win more tournaments. I trust I can do it because it was my first time in the final and I won the trophy.
“I’m going to go home, get a good sleep, and maybe tomorrow do karaoke…I will sing We Are The Champions! I will try next year to be World Champion.”
Brecel said: “Zhao didn’t give me many chances. He potted a red three times from my break-off and they were 80 or 90 breaks. When I got chances I missed a couple. I thought at the end he could crumble, but he didn’t and just played the same stuff so hats off to him. He’s only 24, he’s in the top ten now and he will stay there until he dies, simple as that.
“I don’t think I’ve seen someone play so good for so long, he just played the same the whole way through and was just amazing. It would be good if me, Zhao, Jack Lisowski and Judd Trump were all in the top 16, I think it’s good for snooker and exciting I shouldn’t be too down on myself, I had a good week. It’s just a shame I didn’t play my best in the final.”
Snooker was the winner yesterday.
The big loser at the end of this event is Ding Junhui, who is now down to number 27 in the rankings, with three young fellow citizens ranked above him: Zhao Xintong, Yan Bingtao and Zhou Yuelong. Ding has been around for a long time but it’s worth remembering that he’s only 34.
4 thoughts on “The 2021 UK Championship – Zhao Xintong is your Champion!”
What was so incredible was how quickly Zhao Xintong has suddenly become a sensation. Even I had written him off as a Chinese version of Jack Lisowski: someone who might eventually come good in his 30’s. Zhao’s results this season have been abysmal: losing to Lei Peifan, Aaron Hill, Paul Deaville and Matthew Stevens. He was very lucky to beat Thepchaiya and John Higgins. Then Lisowski and Hawkins played horribly, and he suddenly found himself in the final against Luca Brecel, in many ways an ideal opponent. Really, everything went his way, and he clearly loved the table conditions and the atmosphere of a major final. As I said, his safety game is actually pretty decent, but the key thing was an almost complete lack of silly errors, which is normally his weakness. That allowed his brilliant attacking flair to come out, and we now have a universally popular champion. He’s guaranteed a top-16 place for the next 2 years.
Naturally, he will really struggle to live up to that immediately. It’s almost impossible to consider him as world number 9 after just one tournament, however amazingly he played in York. No matter. What he, and Brecel, have achieved does move the game forwards which is really important for snooker. It is also notable how the media have finally realised that it is actually possible to interview young Chinese players, and that they can be accepted by British audiences.
However, I doubt whether that will lead to any changes in the tour structure. That would require some brave decisions to be made by what is an ultra-cautious administration. And make no mistake, the elite will be trying their best to cling on to power for as long as possible!
Obviously there might be many pitfalls in front of Zhao and it is somewhat amazing how he suddenly emerged into fame and glory, but he is one I hope will be steady and successful in the future, because he is really a delight to watch.
But I don’t really see how and especially his success would lead to any changes in the tour structure, If anything, people will pat themselves and point at him and Brecel showing how well they did, you just have to apply yourself…
This is a delightful read. Looking forward to seeing Zhao Xingtong in many many more tournaments lifting silverware. 🙂 The future of snooker is indeed in very good hands… 🙂
This was really good. Zhao is such a lovely guy. Himself, his game and movement were so easy on the eyes, a delight to watch, played so freely and beautifully, but controlled, and he does not shy away from trying to express himself in English.
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