Since the World Snooker Championship began in 1927, the trophy has ventured outside of the United Kingdom on just three occasions. Beginning Sunday, though, China’s Ding Junhui will have an opportunity to take it out of the U.K. for the fourth time and to Asia for the very first time when he goes up against England’s Mark Selby in the 2016 final.
Prior to this year, no Asian player had ever made it through to the final. Yet this year, only world No. 1 Mark Selby denied Hong Kong’s Marco Fu making it an all-Asian final.
It was Ding who booked his place first. Taking on Scottish veteran Alan McManus, who was playing in his second World Championship final, 23 years after his first, Ding took a 14-10 lead into the final session on Saturday afternoon and quickly sped over the line to wrap up a 17-11 victory.
A sublime break of 123 had put the qualifier within one frame of victory and also saw him break the record for the most centuries ever in a World Championship match with seven. Throughout the semifinal, the 29-year-old displayed the potting prowess that led to him being widely tipped for greatness when emerging on the circuit as a teenager.
Ding won the China Open when aged just 18 and soon became only the third man to win three ranking titles before the age of 20. He would reach the world No. 1 ranking in 2014, but real success at the World Championship has taken far longer than might have expected. Prior to this year, Ding, currently at 17 in the world rankings, had only ever made one semifinal at the famed Crucible in Sheffield, England, which has hosted the championship for the last 40 years.
Now, win or lose in the final, Ding can count on huge support back home. His emergence has further enhanced the popularity in China of a sport which for so long was almost the sole preserve of the United Kingdom. An estimated audience of 100 million, a record for the sport, tuned in to watch Ding beat Fu in the final of the prestigious Masters tournament in 2011.
It was so nearly a repeat of that final in this year’s World Championship. In a match that was contested in sharp contrast to the impressive break-building on show in the other semifinal, Fu and Selby struggled to get their games going. Indeed, rather than the record number of centuries provided by Ding’s contest with McManus, Fu and Selby set the mark for the longest frame in World Snooker Championship history when their final frame in Saturday’s morning session took 76 minutes and 11 seconds before Selby leveled the match up at 12-12.
That continued a pattern of a tightly fought contest in which, after Fu recovered from losing the first three frames, neither player got more than two frames in front. The quality improved marginally in the evening session, when Selby displayed his battling qualities to finally emerge victorious 17-15. The 32-year-old will now compete in his third World Championship final, with a chance to add to the crown he claimed in 2014 when upsetting Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Betting Odds (provided by Oddschecker)
Ding Jinhui: 10/11
Mark Selby: 10/11
Final schedule (best of 35 frames)
Sessions begin at 9 a.m. EDT and 2 p.m. EDT on both Sunday and Monday.
Live stream: Available through signing up to LiveSport.