Teenage prodigy Zhou Yuelong has already been tagged the “new Ding” after helping China win snooker’s World Cup.
The 17-year-old, along with 15-year-old Yan Bingtao, were 50-1 outsiders but, in June, beat England, Australia, Wales and Scotland – defeating John Higgins and Stephen Maguire 4-1 in the final – to lift the trophy and $200,000 winners cheque.
The duo proved that was no fluke last week in Coventry, in the Champion of Champions event. In the first round, Zhou beat world champion Stuart Bingham 4-3 and amateur Yan stunned Masters winner Shaun Murphy 4-2.
Zhou lives in Sheffield and is based at the same base, Star Snooker Academy, which has been home for his compatriot Ding Junhui for over a decade.
Comparisons with 28-year-old Ding – who won the China Open and UK Championship as a rookie 18-year-old – are inevitable.
But Star Academy chief Garry Baldrey, who will send 15 players, including Zhou, to York next week to compete in the Betway UK Championship, is quick to play down the ‘new Ding’ label.
Ding is one of seven Chinese players from Star heading for York, including Zhou, Lu Ning, Tian Pengfei, Zhao Xintong, Zhang Yong and Xiao Guodong.
“Calling them ‘the new Ding’ doesn’t do them any good,” said former professional player Baldrey.
“You understand why everyone wants to think that, Ding is the No 1 in their country, has been for a long time, and probably will be for a long time.
“But these young lads coming through have got a lot of ability, big shoes to fill – and that’s the pressure on them.
“If we can just relieve a bit of that pressure, they can go out and enjoy themselves. Enjoying yourself in this game is key, in my opinion.
“The lads look up to Ding, he’s their role model. That’s great, but we also have to give them their own identity.
“Use Ding as a role model, what he has achieved in the game, but also maybe where he has potentially gone wrong and learn from his experiences.
“Where he struggled to adapt in certain areas, we are now aware of that and can perhaps help the others get through a bit quicker.”
Any evidence needed that snooker is now a global game can be found at Star.
Also heading for the Barbican next week is York amateur Ashley Hugill, 21, Egypt’s Hatem Yaseen, Malaysia’s Thor Chuan Leong, and Thailand’s James Wattana, Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon, Dechawat Poomjaeng, Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Noppon Saengkham.
“We are busy, a lot of players we have had for a long time, and a lot of fresh blood,” said Baldrey.
“It’s going well, some talent from China, and unusual places like Egypt and Malaysia.
“Apart from the 15 players going to York, we have a lot of players in from Australia and Germany on the training camps, and, for the first time, a young American lad, Rex Fallah.
“Wow, he’s been playing six months, had a 67 break, can play left-handed and right-handed like Ronnie O’Sullivan – Ronnie is his idol, obviously.
“He runs round the table a bit like Ronnie, too, so I am just trying to calm him down. He has a natural talent, it’s just whether we can harness it.”
Fourteen-year-old Fallah, from Los Angeles, who is training at the Academy for a month, says: “Ever since I have been here, it’s been a blast, the tables are great.
“One of my friends in LA had a table in his house, so I just started playing there.
“You can see how good you need to be to turn pro. I just want to see how good I can be in the month I am here.”
For 29-year-old Egyptian Yaseen, who turned professional this year after beating former professional Mohamed Khairy 6-5 in the final of the African Championship, life on Tour is a financial struggle as he attempts to find a sponsor to take him through the next two years on the circuit. He plays Marco Fu in the first round at York.
The Betway UK Championship runs from November 24 to December 6. Tickets start at just £6, for more information call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets.