Zhao Xintong announced himself on the world stage of snooker with a dominant 10-5 win over Luca Brecel to clinch the UK Championship.
The 24-year-old has been highly regarded for some time, Ronnie O’Sullivan has labelled him the Roger Federer of snooker - while Mark Williams posted a throwback picture of him playing the then Zhao at the age of 10 - saying the youngster hit two tons in their exhibition contest.
As O’Sullivan has also said, talent needs to be turned into tournament success. It might have come a few years later than anticipated, but Zhao got the job done at the Barbican in York.
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It’s fair to say he had the run of the balls for the majority of the match, but it would be a stretch to say he was not fully deserving of the victory - and with it a place in next year’s Masters.
Zhao ended the afternoon session on a high, and he kicked off the evening in the same manner. A glorious long red showed his cue power, as he was able to screw back for the blue and it set him up for a break of 89 to open up a three-frame advantage.
With confidence flowing through him, Zhao stepped in after Brecel missed a pink and the 24-year-old effortlessly emptied the table with a stunning 120.
Two frames in the evening played, two frames in the bank for Zhao and it was heading towards panic stations for Brecel.
Zhao got in again in the 11th, but surprisingly missed a routine pink into the right middle with his break on 27.
Brecel steadied the ship with a half-century and he drained a final red - after Zhao failed to hunt down a snooker he needed - to stop the bleeding.
The Belgian had a chance to share the mini-session, but as in the afternoon the balls did not fall his way. He gambled on a long red and failed to get back to baulk, allowing Zhao to edge ahead with a break of 49.
It was not a nice table Brecel inherited, but he knocked in a red and colour and went for a double knowing the only ball he could leave would be the red he played. It hit both jaws of the right middle and fell nicely for Zhao to gobble up.
Later in the frame, Brecel went snooker hunting and duly cannoned a green which went into the hole, to which Eurosport commentator Dave Hendon said:
I am not sure whether he walked under a ladder on his way here, but that just about sums it up.
For all he might have been up against it, Brecel possesses quality in his cueing arm and he hit back in the frame after the interval with a break of 81 which contained a series of brilliant doubles that got a well-refreshed Barbican crowd out of their seats.
Every time Brecel threatened a comeback, Zhao fended off the challenge. The tactical side of his game may be not 100% yet, but his single-ball potting is a match for anyone. It was a long red that was the telling blow in the 14th frame, as it allowed him to lay a devilish snooker behind the yellow.
Brecel escaped from it at the second time of asking, but it left the chance for a break of 43 to move within one frame of victory.
It was appropriate that a long red set Zhao on his way to the title in York. He stepped up to the table after Brecel's break and crunched a red into the bottom left. It was also appropriate that a slice of luck helped, as he ran out of position when potting a black but a red that went loose hit the jaws of the left middle and fell perfectly. It all combined for a break of 99 to clinch the title and a place at the top table of snooker.
Zhao Xintong will take a 5-3 lead over Luca Brecel into the concluding session of the UK Championship final.
The Chinese player had the run of the balls against his Belgian opponent, who dug in to remain in the hunt and trail by only two frames.
Zhao found fluency in the final frame of the session, as a 78 ensured he will take confidence into the evening at the Barbican in York.
Zhao opened up the match with a 79, carrying on from where he left off against Barry Hawkins
An excellent safety from Brecel at the start of the second drew an error from Zhao and the Belgian stepped in with a magical 133, his sixth ton of the tournament
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Zhao kicked off the third with a 61, but he had to survive a stern test of his table-craft as Brecel went in search of the three snookers he needed. He got one and laid a couple more, but Zhao survived the test and settled the nerves with an excellent long red.
Both semi-finals were free-scoring, swashbuckling affairs - and the final set off in a similar vein. The fourth turned scrappy, with reds congregated on the left side of the table after a safety exchange. Both players missed chances, but it was Brecel who got over the line to level the contest at the mid-session interval.
Flukes have been regular occurrences at the UK Championship - in truth they are staples at every tournament - and Zhao benefited from a massive slice of fortune in the fifth. In what was a scrappy frame, the Chinese youngster was well placed but sent balls whizzing round the table and saw the cue ball wobble in the jaws of the bottom left, while a red he had missed dribbled into the yellow pocket to get him back in front.
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The run of the balls went Zhao’s way in the sixth, as he kept missing but leaving his opponent in awkward positions and finally got over the line to open a two-frame cushion.
Zhao had a big chance to open up a three-frame lead, but missed a black off its spot - suggesting that big-final nerves were finally taking hold. Brecel kept his composure to clear to the pink to get back within one frame.
The run of the balls was firmly with Zhao in the afternoon session, and that was summed up when he rolled tight up to the brown after missing a red. Brecel could not find a decent safety, and to his credit the 24-year-old cashed in with a break of 78 to secure a 5-3 lead in the race to 10.
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