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December 7, 2021

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Super Zhao stuns snooker world

ZHAO Xintong became the second Chinese player this year to capture one of snooker’s three major titles when he won the UK Championship on Sunday.

Competing in the first final of his career, the 24-year-old Zhao beat Luca Brecel from Belgium 10-5 in the northern English city of York to become only the fourth non-British winner of the event.

He took a 5-3 lead in the first session before converting his advantage in the evening session.

“It was the biggest match for me and it was my first time, so I tried my best,” Zhao said. “I feel very, very happy now. I am very excited.”

“The UK Championship is a snooker theater of dreams,” Zhao later told the BBC.

China has long been viewed as the country that will break Britain’s stranglehold on the table sport and another of its talented young players, Yao Bingtao, won the Masters in January.

The world championship is the biggest event in snooker and no Chinese has ever won it. Ding Junhui, the long-time star of Chinese snooker and a three-time winner of the UK Championship, was the runner-up at the worlds in 2016.

The manner of Zhao’s win suggested there might soon be a shift in the balance of power in the sport toward China, with big names like Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan describing Zhao as the next big thing in snooker.

“He’s got the credentials to be the first Chinese world champion,” six-time world champion Steve Davis said. “Everyone thought it might be Ding but who is to say Zhao won’t be the one to do it?”

Zhao, who will move up to ninth in the world rankings, collected 200,000 pounds (US$265,000) in prize money and earned a place in next month’s Masters tournament in London.

“I will go home and have a good sleep, and maybe tomorrow I will sing karaoke,” he said.

“I will do the song ‘We Are The Champions,’” said Zhao, who is based in Sheffield.

Zhao and Brecel had ripped up the form books in their respective semifinals, Brecel firing four centuries in a 6-4 win over Kyren Wilson, while Zhao compiled six breaks in excess of 70 to sink Barry Hawkins.

Zhao played his best snooker in York as he edged four-time world champion John Higgins 6-5 in the third round before sweeping Jack Lisowski and Hawkins to reach the final.

“I think this could be my new start, I can have more confidence to win more tournaments. I trust I can do it because it was my first time in the final and I won the trophy,” Zhao was quoted by the World Snooker Tour website.


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