Friday, 8 July 2011

Wuxi wonder Ding is man to beat

Chinese national treasure Ding Junhui can do no wrong in the eyes of his hometown fans.

The Wuxi City-born star doesn't have the luxury of playing as many tournaments on home soil as his British competitors, but when he does, he always tries to put on a show .

Today, he didn't disappoint. The national hero lit up this year's Wuxi Classic with the finest match of the tournament so far.He pulled out all the stops to beat Stephen Maguire 5-4 in a thrilling encounter, being dubbed as the best match of the snooker season so far.

While Maguire wasn't exactly at his fluid best when he beat poor Liang Wenbo yesterday, for Ding, this was his first match of the new campaign.

With the weight of expectation from his home fans heavy on his back, he could easily have been beaten by the Scot, who at least had a chance to get his eye in yesterday.

But Ding, who has matured over the last two seasons, didn't bow to the pressure. Instead, he embraced the occasion using all the resilience he's developed in his game. With age, he seems to have learned to enjoy his home ties, a trick some players never master.

That's why I'm not afraid to label him the favourite for this year's Wuxi Classic title.

A lot of people in the snooker world are predicting that despite the game being at the height of its competitiveness, Ding will win a couple of events this season. Victory here would set him a great marker for the campaign ahead.

But he could yet have to avenge the demons of last year's final, where he spurned an 8-2 lead to lose 9-8 in the final to Shaun Murphy.

With the Magician facing Ali Carter in the semi-final, a possible re-match is on the cards. But first, he must battle his way past Mark Selby, the player he beat in the World Championship quarter-final back in April.

The Jester didn't look in any mood for messing around this morning as he easily brushed aside Graeme Dott 5-0.

But Selby has been always capable of that kind of massacre performance. The real test comes against Ding, when we'll see if he's brave enough to stick by his attacking guns, or whether he's pushed back into his defensive shell, which will suit Ding down to the ground.

One thing is for sure: Ding will have legions of fans flooding to the venue for the final two days of the tournament.

I expect Ding to take it all in his stride, and put right his Wuxi Classic wrongs of 12 months ago.

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