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FOCUS ON...DING JUNHUI
Ding Junhui’s season was one of much improvement after a couple of disappointing years.
Of the six world ranking titles contested he appeared in three finals, winning a gripping UK Championship battle against John Higgins.
However, the campaign ended in a second round defeat at the Crucible to Shaun Murphy. This in itself was no disgrace but Ding is still yet to appear in a World Championship quarter-final.
He did little wrong against an inspired Mark Williams in the second session of the China Open final and, from what I’m told, hardly made a mistake from 8-2 up to Murphy in the Wuxi Classic final, which he eventually lost 9-8.
Ding has defied the dire predictions that he had peaked as a teenager and would not settle down as a top player. It was easy – and forgivable – to expect much more of him considering his golden 18-month spell from March 2005 when he won the China Open, UK Championship and Northern Ireland Trophy.
Back then, he looked like a certain top four player and possible world champion. Neither of these has happened yet but, at 23, he still has plenty of time to add to his achievements.
Of course, he suffered that confidence-sapping drubbing to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2007 Masters final and had to deal with the expectations heaped on him by the largest country on the planet.
These have been eased by the emergence of Liang Wenbo, whose rise up the rankings may also have created a rivalry that has helped spur Ding on.
He seemed happier last season in general. Moving from his home to live in the UK was not easy but he appears to have settled now.
One change this season is his practice base. The World Snooker Academy is now a qualifying centre so Ding has had to find somewhere else, but I understand his manager is setting up a new facility in Sheffield so this won’t be such a seismic shift.
Ding starts the new season fifth in the rankings, his highest ever position. He started the campaign just gone struggling to stay in the top 16 so this represents a vast effort.
He remains a rather shy young man not entirely comfortable with the spotlight. People are made differently. It’s easy to say a sportsman should be this, that or the other but ultimately people are who they are.
Ding gets criticised because often in the arena he looks thoroughly fed up.
So what if he does? I’ve never understood the juvenile demand that players should ‘smile more.’ What if there’s nothing to smile about?
And how many top sportsmen or women go about with fixed rictus grins on their faces when they are trying to concentrate on playing their chosen game to the best of their ability?
He inevitably has people fussing around him trying to market him in a certain way or telling him how to behave. My advice is simple: let Ding be Ding.
Let him concentrate primarily on what he has loved doing since he first came across the game as a ten year-old on the table outside his family home: playing snooker.
This is what fascinates him. This is what inspires him. This is what he is really good at.
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