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Last Updated: Monday, 4 April 2005, 13:04 GMT 14:04 UK
Could Ding be snooker's saviour?
By Phil Harlow

Ding Junhui celebrates his victory with his mother

Ding Junhui's emphatic win at the China Open is more than the latest example of snooker's young guns ousting the old guard.

The 18-year-old's 9-5 victory over seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry could turn out to be one of the most significant matches in the sport's history.

With UK regulations meaning this year's Embassy World Championships will be the last event to be sponsored by a tobacco company, snooker's major challenge is to attract new funds - and fans - to the sport.

China - with a 1.3 billion population and the most rapidly-expanding economy in the world - is potentially the most lucrative sporting market in the world.

So the emergence of a Chinese youngster with the talent to beat the best in the world will have snooker's marketing men and financial brains licking their lips in anticipation.

Ding has been seen as the future since turning professional in 2003 and the sport knew it had a star-in-the-making from the off.

As a callow 16-year-old with minimal top-level experience, Ding was handed a coveted wildcard into the 2003 Masters and promptly swept aside the experienced Joe Perry 6-3.

That performance prompted world number one Ronnie O'Sullivan to proclaim Ding as a future world champion.

"The future should be good for him, but the important thing is that no-one should put pressure on him," said O'Sullivan.

"We're good at putting pressure on people, but it's how much he expects of himself and how he deals with it that's important."

But with an estimated television audience of 100m tuning in to the final and his win making front-page news in China, Ding looks to have little choice but to accept the burden.

Having whitewashed former world champions Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon and recovering from 4-1 down in the final, Ding looks to have the temperament to deal with expectations.

And, despite a taciturn public persona, Ding does not lack for confidence.

"I've got a good chance of becoming a great player," he told BBC Sport this year.

"I may even become world champion one day. "

But his absence from this year's World Championship, after losing in qualifying, and a lowly world ranking of 58, suggests Ding has some way to go before producing the goods on a consistent basis.

Nevertheless, snooker fans on the Five Live message boards were in little doubt about Ding's potential, both as a player and as a symbol of snooker's new generation.

"I think (Ding's win) is very significant for the sport, but we won't see just how significant for a few years when there are a number of new, talented Chinese players coming through," said one Quality Control.

"He is a genuine star - only Ronnie and Jimmy will be able to match his status as a star now."

"A brilliant performance from the 18-year-old," added Pederson_legend.

"Great to see him beat Hendry in the final! A refreshing change... and he actually smiled when he won!"

"Ding Junhui is a future world champ," said Romans_revolution, while StephenLeeFan suggested Ding's win must rank as one of snooker's biggest-ever upsets.

Ding tipped for snooker stardom
04 Feb 04 |  Northamptonshire
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03 Feb 03 |  Snooker
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30 Jan 03 |  Snooker

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