Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ding downed on home soil

Ding Junhui proved again the power of pressure as he suffered a shock first round exit in front of his home crowd in China.

The world number seven crashed to a 5-1 defeat against fellow countryman and wildcard entrant Jin Long; a result which stunned his fanatical fans on Hainan Island.

This continues a wildly unpredictable run of current form for Ding. In the last three ranking events he's sandwiched triumph at the Welsh Open with first round defeats at the German Masters and now the World Open.

While this inconsistent run of tournaments can sometimes be part and parcel of life at the top of sport, it's important to point out the severity of pressure Ding finds himself under whenever he plays in his home country.

His record at home is far from a bad one. He famously won the China Open as a wildcard himself back in 2005 and returned to the final of the same competition in 2010. He also won the Wuxi Classic in 2008 followed by the runner-up prizes in each of the following two seasons.

Unfortunately around these successes have come some disappointing performances as well.

The fierce competition of life at the top end of the game means no player can always win matches and play well but it would be naive to believe that some of these matches come down to the weight of expectation put on his shoulders.

Ding's popularity is on a completely different scale to other players who enjoy home support on their own soil. He is a national hero in China. His legions of fans treat him like an A-list celebrity and expect him to win every time he plays.

He's still a young lad. I can't believe this isn't sometimes a little too much when he gets on the table.

It's not easy for Ding but let's not take anything away from Jin Long either.

Even if he has nothing to lose this week, it was a gutsy win all in the name of pride. He earns no ranking points or prize money for his exploits this week but is still showing what a good player he is.

The 30-year-old has been on the circuit before, of course. He has enjoyed five seasons on the tour in total, most recently dropping off in 2010.

He has struggled to really make his mark but does boast the Asian champion title in 2005 and 2008, two runs to the last 48 of the World Open plus an impressive 13 ranking event wins in the 2008/09 season.

He may have been given a chance this week many people believe he doesn't deserve but he must be given full credit for taking it with both hands.

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