There was a time when I believed that Ding Junhui would be the first world champion of Asian descent, but it seems to me that his rise to stardom in the throes of the bombastic promotion of Chinese snooker in his homeland has only hurt his chances of rising all the way to the top. As more and more events are being staged in China, more and more deciding frame defeats and embarrassing losses to lesser players seem to be floating Ding's way. When I watch him play against top players, it's often difficult to pick a winner--but I can't remember the last time I watched Ding Junhui play a first-round match against an unseeded player, confident that he would come through with a win.
|Ding Junhui: What the f----|
Photo by Monique Limbos
Mark King has never beaten Ding Junhui before today and more recently, he has also been beaten in the opening round by Mark Davis 5-2 in Wuxi, was crushed at the first hurdle by compatriot wildcard Jin Long 5-1 back at the World Open, lost to Peter Ebdon in both the China Open and in Australia, and was even eliminated from the German Masters by Yu Delu 5-3 in possibly the worst performance of his career--again, in the first round. As of late, commentators have spoken of his poor record in China, but while his talent can't be disputed, his record against lower-ranked opposition in general hasn't exactly been glowing with the same sort of luster of, say, the top 5--which he was recently a part of.
Couple that with the air of frustration I mentioned and you start to see a player on the decline. He received a light slap on the wrist for saying "fuck" at the press conference for his deciding frame loss to Ryan Day at the World Championship, which was little more than a dejected-looking Ding who seemed keen to blame his loss on the Sheffield crowd despite sparse evidence that the audience was at all partisan or uncharacteristically and unreasonably unruly for the excitement of a Crucible decider. Since then, he always seems to be pointing fingers at the crowd and finding excuses to lose matches he should be winning. It's almost as though he just can't handle the pressure.
It's weird to see a top snooker player get so far up in the game and then suffer from the sort of behaviour that typically prevents players from ever reaching the top, but I really think we might just be seeing Ding Junhui on a premature decline. At this rate, any number of players from China's growing snooker conglomerate might don the Crucible crown before Ding does.
Haphazard Semi-finalist Predictions:
(NOTE: Predicted results are made with my head, not with my heart--but generally speaking, it doesn't make them any more accurate)
- Stuart Bingham
- Stephen Maguire
- Mark Williams
- Graeme Dott
PREDICTED WINNER: Mark Williams
HOPE LEFT THAT GRAEME DOTT WILL WIN THIS EVENT: It's really all contingent on Mark Allen beating Judd Trump.