MrQ UK Championship: Ding Junhui eyes Masters spot after his love affair with York continues

Ding Junhui during his match against Tom Ford. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA WireDing Junhui during his match against Tom Ford. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Ding Junhui during his match against Tom Ford. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Wire
Judd Trump and Ding Junhui arrived in York suffering from illness but the duo were fighting fit yesterday to reach the MrQ UK Championship quarter-finals.​​​​

Trump – looking to add to his UK crown from 2011 – thrashed Jamie Jones 6-0 to continue his fine form, which has already seen him win this season’s English Open, Wuhan Open and Northern Ireland Open.

Ding has struggled in comparison, slipping out of the world’s top 16 and forced to qualify for the televised stages at the York Barbican, but was also in dominant form, beating Tom Ford 6-3 with the help of three century breaks.

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Victory also boosted the 36-year-old’s chances of regaining his spot in the elite top 16 and a ticket for next month’s Masters.

With the seeding cut off at the end of the week, world No 17 Ding is in pole position to return to Alexandra Palace in January.

“When I got chances I went into the pack and opened the balls,” said Ding. “I made centuries in those first two frames and I could have made more today. He also played good though.

“I didn’t think about the ranking points before the match. I just wanted to win the match. It can be up and down so quickly that I can’t really concentrate on the rankings before the match.

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“I love to play here. I’ve always said that. I like the venue and the weather in the UK in November and December is the best for snooker. The tables are perfect and the temperature inside the venue is right for this big event.”

Sheffield-based Ding has form when it comes to doing well as a qualifier in Triple Crown events.

In 2016, the former world No 1 had fallen out of the top 16 and was forced to head to the World Championship qualifiers.

The 36-year-old arrived at the Crucible under the radar, and maybe with the pressure off – both in England and, more importantly, back in his homeland of China where he is a sporting superstar – Ding went all the way to the final. He eventually lost 18-14 to Mark Selby in Sheffield.

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But 59 miles up the M1, Ding is threatening a similar journey. Again, he had to win two qualifying matches in Leicester – after slipping out of the world’s top 16 rankings – simply to secure a return to the Barbican. This famous York venue is the scene of two of Ding’s three UK titles, and he was a losing finalist 12 months ago to Mark Allen.

Yesterday, Ding started and finished his match in stunning style.

He opened with back-to-back centuries, knocking in 126 and 110, before Ford continued the theme with a 118 clearance.

The only surprise in the opening salvo was that 40-year-old Ford missed out on a fourth successive century in York, when he missed an attempted double on the red to the centre pocket to score a ‘meagre’ 98.

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At 2-2 heading into the mid-session break, the Barbican crowd had witnessed snooker from the Gods, such was the high quality.

Ding was first in after the interval and the only surprise was that he ran out of position amongst the reds and missed an ambitious attempt into the green pocket.

It could have been costly, but Ford failed to punish his opponent, missing a black, as Ding pinched the frame with a 51 clearance.

Frame six was scrappy, in comparison to the standards of the contest. The Chinese potter looked to have done enough, only for Ford to claw back a snooker, to make it a black ball frame. That was when Ding enjoyed a huge slice of fortune, fluking the black to go 4-2 in front.

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Ford, from Leicester, hit back with a 62 break to cut the deficit, but it was Ding who then took control, taking the final two frames and finishing with an impressive 106 clearance to the colours.

Joining Ding in Friday’s quarter-finals is Trump, who never looked back after starting with a break of 100, for a 950th career century.

“I feel like if I can get through those first couple of rounds then I’m playing amazing and it takes something really special to beat me,” Trump said.

“A lot of other players perform the same in all conditions, but my cue action, where I come across the ball and hit with a little bit of side at impact, I have to get used to how the table is playing with side a lot more than other players. The first game I am really nervous, but when I know how I am playing on the table it just becomes easy for me.”

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China’s Zhou Yuelong will play his idol John Higgins on Thursday at the Barbican.

The world No 26 beat Neil Robertson 6-2 in the opening round but next faces four-time world champion Higgins.

Zhou said: “John Higgins is my favourite player and also my idol. I will enjoy playing against him.

“When I was younger I always watched him and Ronnie and Mark Williams too. For many years he has always been in the top eight.”

Elsewhere, world No 1 Ronnie O’Sullivan faces Robert Milkins while Sheffield-based Zhang Anda plays world champion Luca Brecel.

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