In his first competitive match in six months, China’s Ding Junhui won a dramatic deciding frame to beat Mark King 10-9 in the opening round of the Betfred World Championship.
The Asian number one now faces the mouth-watering prospect of a last 16 clash with either Ronnie O’Sullivan or Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. His preparations for the Crucible have been less than ideal, having had to spend 14 days in quarantine after arriving in the UK, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Ding has travelled to Sheffield this year harbouring hopes of becoming Asia’s first World Champion. He reached the final in 2016, but was runner-up to Mark Selby. Ding won the fourth Triple Crown title of his career in December, beating Stephen Maguire 10-6 to win the UK Championship.
King was making his first Crucible appearance since 2013. On that occasion he was also beaten by Ding, suffering a 13-9 defeat in the last 16.
The pair came into this afternoon with just a frame between them, after Ding established a narrow 5-4 advantage in yesterday’s first session.
King took a tight opening frame by depositing a fine long range yellow to the top pocket and clearing the colours to make it 5-5. Ding remained undeterred and emphatically regained the lead with a sublime century run of 125.
Essex cueman King restored parity at 6-6, before another century contribution of 119 from Ding saw him lead 7-6 at the mid-session interval.
When they returned, King claimed the 14th frame with a gutsy clearance of 34, to make it 7-7. However, breaks of 85 and 67 moved Ding to the verge of victory at 9-7.
King pulled one back and then stole the 18th on the black to force a decider at 9-9. It all came down to a safety battle on the final red, but it was Ding who eventually deposited a brilliant long pot to the top corner and cleared to clinch victory.
After the match Ding said that he hopes his new coach Chris Henry can help give him an edge and improve the mental aspect of his game.
Ding said: “Sometimes I need to learn new things, the control of the game and psychology. I don’t want to read the book myself! I just want to have someone with the experience to be able to tell me how to do it.
“After 14 days of quarantine, I only had eight or nine days to get ready for the World Championship. I’m not sure I can play well with that little practice, I will just try. I am looking forward to the second round and I am looking to improve my game. Whoever I play, I want to win.
“There were still nerves for me without the crowd. It doesn’t change a lot. We were both concentrating on the table, I didn’t think about the crowd and it was ok for us.”
Meanwhile, John Higgins started his bid to reach a fourth consecutive Crucible final by taking a 6-3 lead over Matthew Stevens.
Welshman Stevens, runner-up here in 2000 and 2005, had the better of the opening exchanges and took a 3-2 lead with top breaks of 60, 77 and 94. But four-time World Champion Higgins got the better of a tight sixth frame, and that turned the tide as the Wishaw potter then fired runs of 60, 61 and 69 to establish a three-frame overnight advantage. They are back on the baize at 2.30pm on Sunday.
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