World No.3 Ding appeared to be cruising into round two at York’s Barbican Centre as he raced into a 5-1 lead over world No.130 Leo Fernandez – a man who had not only failed to win a game yet this season but had also chalked up just four frames in the process.
But the Irish veteran – who has never gone beyond the last-16 of a ranking event in a 22-year career – rallied to win five frames on the spin and clinch an incredible 6-5 comeback victory.
Ding suffering a hugely shocking defeat has become almost a UK Championship tradition over the last few years as world No.32 Jamie Jones outplayed him in the third round last year, amateur Adam Duffy beat him 6-2 in 2015 and world No.99 James Cahill knocked him out 12 months prior.
“I played well but just missed a few chances to win it, especially at 5-1,” said Ding. “I don’t know exactly how he got back into it – sometimes that is going to happen. “It’s happened here and Leo played very well in the end to win the match. It seems there is always somebody playing against me like that at this tournament! I don’t know why.”
Ding had his chances to seal victory – needing just one more red and colour when 5-1 ahead, only to miss a relatively straightforward pot.
In the decider, the 30-year-old was again just two balls from victory but failed to dislodge the final pink from the cushion and then left Fernandez the chance he required to seal a memorable triumph.
“I mishit it in the final frame trying to get the pink off the cushion,” admitted Ding. “I didn’t get a good angle on the brown, which meant I wasn’t in the right position for the blue.
“That made going from blue to pink a much more technically difficult shot. I needed to leave it easier for myself but I couldn’t.”
Fernandez returned to the professional snooker tour in August having served a 15-month ban after admitting corruption charges.
And the 41-year-old is in no doubt as to where this victory ranks in his list of achievements.
“It’s my best moment in snooker for sure and the biggest win of my career,” admitted Fernandez. “At 5-1 down I was thinking about the train journey home but I hadn’t played badly. I tried to stay calm and enjoy it.
“It’s an amazing feeling to beat a player as good as Ding and it means so much to me.”
And given the variety of ailments he is currently suffering from, Fernandez’s victory was all the more remarkable.
“I’m suffering from a slipped disc in my back and sciatica so I’m lucky to be here,” he added. “It was hard fighting the pain.”
Elsewhere in York, world No.7 Marco Fu cruised past 1995 World Championship finalist Nigel Bond 6-2, world No.19 Ryan Day eased to a 6-0 victory over Jamie Curtis-Barrett and world No.21 Mark King whitewashed Thailand’s Boonyarit Keattikun.
Watch LIVE coverage of the UK Championship on Eurosport and Eurosport Player with Colin Murray and analysis from Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.