Ronnie O’Sullivan crashed out of the Betway UK Championship yesterday to end his pursuit of a hat-trick of titles in York.
The seven-time UK champion last tasted defeat at the Barbican in 2016 – he lifted the trophy in 2017 and 2018 – but that dominance finally came to an end with a 6-4 loss to Sheffield-based Ding Junhui.
It means the top four players in the world – O’Sullivan, world champion Judd Trump, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson – have all been knocked out before the quarter-finals.
O’Sullivan failed to pot a ball in the opening three frames as world No 16 Ding – who has endured a lean run, his last ranking title was the World Open in 2017 – reeled off breaks of 81, 52 and 110.
The world No 2 replied with back-to-back centuries to level at 4-4, before Ding, 32, held his nerve to secure a last-eight meeting with fellow Chinese potter Liang Wenbo.
“I played well, about 90 per cent of my best,” said Ding, who first won this tournament as an 18-year-old back in 2005. He won his second UK title four years later, in 2009. “Ronnie didn’t pot many long balls so he left me chances.
“I knew I had to start well because he can switch it on at any time, score heavily and win frames. I played good safety.
“Hopefully I can remember this feeling and play like this in every match. I didn’t play many tournaments earlier in the season so I needed ranking points and that’s when the pressure comes. Everyone is looking at me expecting me to win.”
O’Sullivan – who celebrates his 44th birthday today – admitted Ding deserved his victory.
“I was happy to win four frames because that could have been a mauling,” he said.
“I had a couple of chances from 4-4 but I didn’t take them. I missed a few balls at vital times.
“Ding played a great match and deserved to win. He could win this but there are still so many good players.”
Liang is competing in York, despite the tragic death of his mother last week.
Ding, who endured the same misfortune in 2017, added: “He’s got a tough time now.
“He is very brave to keep playing and winning. We all love to see him playing well again.
“I know how he feels. (When it happened to me) my mind was here but my heart was back home.
“I think he’s the same. I’m sure he just wants to win matches for his mum.”
Joining Ding in the last eight in York, is Chesterfield’s Nigel Bond, 54, who will become the oldest UK Championship quarter-finalist since 67-year-old Fred Davis in 1980.
Bond – who beat Trump earlier in the tournament – edged out Gary Wilson 6-5 to secure a showdown with Mark Allen today.
With the match finely balanced at 5-5, Bond benefited from a huge fluke on a red, to clinch a match-winning 66 break.
“When the fluke went in I thought it must be written in the stars,” said Bond.
“I’m proud to have been a pro for 31 years, I have never dropped off the tour or needed a wild card.
“The money I have earned here (£24,500 guaranteed) will help me stay on for longer. Moments like this are more special now,” added Bond, who last reached the UK quarter-finals in 2003
An unhappy Wilson said: “The whole match was a joke, I had no form at all. Not just the fluke in the last frame, but every time he missed the balls finished awkward. It was pathetic. Nigel was snatching at every shot.
“He’s a great bloke but he got away with murder today. I had my chances though so I only have myself to blame.”