Ding Junhui snapped a six-match winless run against Ronnie O’Sullivan by taking out an off-colour world champion 6-0 to reach the semi-finals of the UK Championship.
O’Sullivan commands an excellent record against Ding, with a dominant head-to-head record. But Ding is one of the biggest talents in the game and he won his first match against O’Sullivan since the UK Championship in 2019 when he went on to lift the title for a third time.
A switch can flip when he gets to the table, but at the Barbican in York on Friday he looked totally out of sorts – summed up by a shocking missed black off its spot in the opening frame.
That set the tone for the match, as O’Sullivan kept making mistakes and Ding grew in confidence to close out a whitewash victory over the greatest to play the game.
The opener was a scrappy affair, with Ding getting in on a couple of occasions and breaking down.
The frame looked at the mercy of O’Sullivan but he served up a collector’s item, when missing a black off the spot. He then coughed up a series of poor safety shots, and Ding eventually got over the line.
‘Never seen that before!’ – Cue ball bizarrely takes ‘left turn’ for Ding
Alarm bells continued to ring for O’Sullivan fans in the second, as he missed a simple red with the rest. Later in the frame he played a wild safety shot after twice being called for a miss, and ran out of position on the final red when presented with another chance.
As in the first frame, it took a few goes but Ding eventually got over the line to establish a two-frame cushion.
The third frame saw Ding make a statement of intent with a single-kill break of 88.
Ding was looking good, but he was helped by an almighty fluke in the fourth. He missed a red to bottom right but it ran around the table and eventually dropped in the left middle on its final roll. To rub salt into the wounds of the seven-time world champion, O’Sullivan had risen from his chair and was chalking his cue in anticipation of a counter when the red dropped.
There was not a flicker of emotion from Ding, who picked off a brilliant blue with his next shot and ran through a break of 94 to take a 4-0 lead into the interval.
Ding’s form fell off a cliff after the 2019 UK Championship, and he has been scratching around in qualifiers.
He had to qualify for the Barbican, but it enabled him to build confidence and match-sharpness.
Both were on show when the players returned from the interval. A poor safety, another one, from O’Sullivan handed Ding a chance and he took it with a break of 87 to move to the brink of victory.
After looking in patchy form for the opening couple of frames, Ding was a player transformed a shade over an hour later.
At the start of the sixth he was faced with a serious test of cueing, with a long red to the bottom right and the white near the baulk line.
He struck it true, the red went in the middle of the pocket and the cue ball held for the black.
The belief to close out the match was there, which he did with a nerveless century break of 131 to close out a remarkable victory over O’Sullivan.
– – –