China’s Ding Junhui established a narrow 5-4 lead over former title-holder Stuart Bingham on Monday as he looked to join compatriot Yan Bingtao in the second round of snooker’s World Championship.
Ding had a difficult start against Bingham, the 2015 world champion.
Although he had to come through qualifying after dropping out of the world’s top 16, the Englishman made a fine break of 131 in the opening frame and was 3-1 ahead at the mid-session interval thanks to a contribution of 129.
But world number nine Ding responded with clearances of 105 and 86 before a fluked black saw him take a hard-fought ninth frame of a match that will be played to a finish at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in northern England on Tuesday.
No player from Asia, a growing hotbed of snooker, has yet won the sport’s most prestigious title, with Canada’s Cliff Thorburn (1980) and Australia’s Neil Robertson (2010), the only world champions from outside Britain and Ireland in the modern era.
Ding, however, lost 18-14 in the 2016 final to England’s Mark Selby and has long been tipped to be China’s first world champion.
Someone else aiming for that distinction is Yan Bingtao, the resigning Masters champion.
His bid for Crucible glory started on Sunday with a 10-6 win over qualifier Martin Gould.
Were the 21-year-old Chinese to win this year’s edition he would be the youngest world champion in snooker history, surpassing the record of Scotland’s Stephen Hendry, who was 21 years and 106 days old when he first won the title in 1990.
Yan, however, must first get past either 2005 champion Shaun Murphy or Mark Davis in the second round.
Meanwhile China’s Liang Wenbo saw his World Championship end in a 10-3 loss to Robertson.
The Australian, 6-3 ahead overnight, won four straight frames on Sunday, including two century breaks, to secure a last-16 tie against either Ali Carter or Jack Lisowski.
“It was a good performance. It’s important to play how I want,” Robertson told the BBC. “Liang was one of the tougher ones to draw. But I maintained my levels and I feel really good and really happy.”
Reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan eased into the second round with a 10-4 win over qualifier Mark Joyce.
O’Sullivan, however, said he had been “harassed” by a “boozed-up” fan while relaxing at a Sheffield restaurant.
Spectators are being allowed into the Crucible to watch the tournament as part of a British government pilot programme following the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England, with organisers hopeful a capacity crowd will be able to attend the final.
“About 99 percent of people have been fine,” said O’Sullivan, who will equal Hendry’s modern-day record of seven world championships if he retains his title.
“It is the odd one. He was boozed up — it is what it is.”
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