TWO-TIME champion Ding Junhui outlined his determination to claim the Betway UK Championship title after powering into the final at the York Barbican.
The 32-year-old – who lifted the trophy in 2005 and 2009 – is a former world number one but has not won a ranking tournament since his World Open title back in 2017.
Following a disappointing run of form since that success, Ding arrived at the first Triple Crown event of the season ranked 16th in the world but has managed to show glimpses of his best form throughout the competition.
And following impressive wins over five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and Chinese compatriot Liang Wenbo en route to the last four, Ding showcased his intentions for a third crown with an emphatic 6-2 triumph over teenage sensation Yan Bingtao.
“It’s a great feeling to be in the final again,” he said. “I love this tournament and I’m very excited to have the opportunity to win here again.
“But I have to make sure I do go on and win because it’s been too long. I haven’t won anything for two seasons, and although I don’t need to prove anything to anybody, I need it to fully get my confidence back.
“I played very well again today. I put Bingtao under pressure in the first few frames and after I made a good clearance in the second I felt I really settled into the game.
“I’ve beaten some good players on my way to the final – including Ronnie – so I’m feeling very confident now and it’s great to be back to the sort I level I was at before, because I was a long way from that at the start of the season."
Having claimed his maiden UK Championship title as an 18-year-old 14 years ago, Ding is confident he can ultimately add to his tally of three Triple Crown titles, with his first since winning the Masters in 2011.
And while he acknowledged a 14th ranking tournament win is no foregone conclusion, the Sheffield-based potter believes he has the credentials to emerge triumphant against any opponent if he continues in the same vein.
He said: “I’m not worried about who I’ll play in the final, I just have to focus more on my own game.
“I don’t know what my opponent’s going to be thinking during the match so the only thing I can do is go out there and give it my best.
“But any player on the tour is dangerous and in the final they’ll be focused on going on to win the tournament. We’re all trying hard but hopefully I can get over the line.”
Despite somewhat cruising into Sunday’s showpiece, Ding reserved praise for semi-final opponent Yan, who trains at Sheffield’s Vics Snooker Academy.
The 19-year-old stunned former world champions Neil Robertson and John Higgins on his charge to the last four – having claimed his maiden ranking title at the Riga Masters earlier this season – and Ding is sure he has a bright future ahead.
He said: “Bingtao is still very young and he’s done amazingly well with what he’s achieved so far this season.
“He’s a fantastic talent and I was really impressed with his performances against Neil and John, but I think I just managed to put him under a bit more pressure today.
“He was missing a few balls and his safety perhaps wasn’t as good as it normally is, but he’s very early on in his career and it’s going to be really exciting to see how he develops.”
* Watch the UK Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport Player with analysis from Ronnie O’Sullivan and Jimmy White.