Jamie Clarke claimed that Zhao Xintong will “definitely win the title within five years” after being blown away 10-2 by the Cyclone in the first round of the Betfred World Championship.
Zhao’s only previous Crucible appearance came in 2019 when he lost 10-7 to Mark Selby, but he has improved dramatically since then and now has a first win in Sheffield under his belt. The 25-year old Chinese ace made his major breakthrough in December when he won his maiden ranking title at the Cazoo UK Championship, and he soon doubled his tally at the German Masters in January.
With flair and fluency in abundance, Zhao proved against Clarke he is capable of reeling off frames in quick succession, a crucial asset on snooker’s biggest stage. His next opponent will be Stephen Maguire or Shaun Murphy in a last-16 clash which starts on Thursday evening.
Zhao’s natural talent has been widely praised by the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump and Mark Williams, and a heavily beaten Clarke was quick to join his list of admirers.
“He’s just phenomenal, a sensation in our sport,” said the Welshman. “He’s a real contender for the title this year. I’ll put my neck on the line and say that I fancy him to win the world title in the next five years if he doesn’t win it this year. He’s unbelievable to watch. He floats around the table and acts like the game is easy. When you get to the table after he misses it feels difficult because he’s made it look so easy, it makes you only see problems.”
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