World Championship: Refreshed Ding feels right at home in Sheffield

Ding Junhui is hoping a break away from snooker can help his mission to win the Betfred World Championship.

Ding Junhui
Ding Junhui

The 31-year-old – who has lived in Sheffield since he moved from China as a teenager – missed several tournaments in Europe at the start of the season, including the European Masters and Paul Hunter Classic

Travelling in Europe and Asia with wife Apple and his family helped Ding enjoy time away from snooker.

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And with the couple expecting their first child later this year, Ding – a sporting superstar back in China – will launch his Crucible voyage on Monday in good shape.

That he faces countryman Xiao Guodong – the duo both train in the Steel City’s Star Academy – adds more flavour to his opening round match.

“It’s great being back in Sheffield,” Ding told The Yorkshire Post. “I am so used to travelling a lot, but Sheffield feels like home.

“I didn’t enter for a few tournaments at the start of the season, so more time to rest in China.

“I had time with my family, which was good.

“I entered my first tournament at the end of October, so it was a good choice.

“It was a good rest. I chose to do it my way.

“It’s still difficult, travelling around Europe, so I missed the first few tournaments in Europe; the European Masters, Paul Hunter Classic.

“During my time off, I went travelling in Europe and Asia with my wife and family.”

Former Masters and UK champion Ding has reached the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final in his last three Crucible visits.

It’s a venue where he initially struggled to deal with the pressure, but now Ding’s main focus is to win the world title for himself, not just the millions of expectant fans who follow his every move back in China.

“I hope I can go one better this year, that’s what I hope,” said Ding.

“I struggled for the first few seasons playing at the Crucible, but I am used to it now.

“I still have pressure to win (in Sheffield). All the best players in the world are here.

“But I don’t like this pressure. I just want to play my own game, win or lose.

“Of course, I want to win it, for me. But it’s not something which will damage my life.

“Without snooker, I have another life. My child will be coming soon, and I am happy.

“But the best way is to win everything before I retire.”

At least a major obstacle in Ding’s path to that elusive Crucible crown – defending champion and world No 1 Mark Selby – has been removed.

Selby’s attempt to become just the third player, after Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry, to reel off three successive world titles at the Crucible faltered, losing 10-4 to qualifier Joe Perry.

Selby said: “I lost it really in the first session. My safety wasn’t up to scratch and every time I made a mistake he punished me heavily.

“The last three or four years I’ve had some good success here so I can’t complain.”

Perry, 43, led 7-2 after the morning session. But comebacks are a Selby speciality so Perry was taking nothing for granted when they returned in the evening. Instead of a full-on assault on his lead, however, he was met with more misfiring from Selby.

Perry reached the Crucible semi-finals in 2008, losing a gripping match 17-15 to Ali Carter, and has dipped to 22nd in the world rankings.

Selby tops that list and has done so at the end of each season since 2012/13, but he leaves snooker’s most famous stage empty-handed this time.

Carter will tackle Ronnie O’Sullivan in the second round after coming from 6-2 adrift to earn a 10-8 win against 2006 world champion Graeme Dott.

Essex cueman Carter lost to O’Sullivan in the 2008 and 2012 Crucible finals and has only beaten him once in his career.

The 38-year-old showed impressive form on Sunday in battling past three-time world finalist Dott, making breaks of 62, 108, 69, 56 and 63 across the session.

Victory avenged Carter’s defeat to Dott in the first round in Sheffield last year.

On the other table, Shaun Murphy led Jamie Jones 5-4 after their first session.

Murphy set an early marker for the £10,000 high-break prize with a 137 clearance in the third frame.

Rising star Kyren Wilson wrapped up a 10-3 win over two-time runner-up Matthew Stevens, and will face Murphy or Jones next.

Stevens said a sudden onset of illness on Friday night contributed to his defeat. He said: “The first session was an absolute nightmare. I’d only slept for about an hour. I felt like death warmed up and I’m gutted.”