Zhao Xintong’s stunning win over Luca Brecel to clinch the UK Championship title in York could herald a new era of Chinese dominance of the sport, according to Jason Ferguson, chairman of its governing body, the WPBSA.
Ferguson believes there is every chance of crowning the first world champion from the Asian nation at the Crucible next year, after Zhao’s success which followed hot on the heels of Yan Bingtao’s Masters triumph at the start of the year.
For Ferguson, it is no surprise that snooker’s balance of power is starting to shift as it reaps the consequences of long-term investment in the sport in Asia in the wake of Ding Junhui’s initial ranking event win in Beijing in 2005.
Ferguson said: “I think we are approaching the time within the next few years when we are going to see a Chinese world champion.
“It is still a UK-strong tour, but we are starting to see significant changes, and I think that is testament to the globalisation of the sport.
“We have developed from a traditional English sport that had a few overseas events into a proper global business with global TV and that brings with it global stars. The sport is getting bigger and we are starting to see players we have never seen before.”
Ding, for so long the sport’s standard-bearer in China is now the fourth-ranked player from his country, behind Zhao, who leapt to ninth following his win, Yan and Zhou Yuelong.
And Ferguson hopes the sport will continue to capitalise, with plans to restore the lucrative Chinese leg of the world tour, which has been on hold since October 2019 due to the restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We still have a full calendar to deliver in China and we are working towards that,” added Ferguson. “I’d like to think we can do the World Cup in the summer and after that I’d realistically expect we will return in late summer, possibly for the Shanghai Masters.”
Ferguson, a former professional who spent four years in the world’s top 32, gave short shrift to Shaun Murphy’s claim last week that amateur players should not be granted entry into ranking events following his shock loss to another Chinese player, Si Jiahui.
Referencing Ding’s China Open success over Stephen Hendry in 2005 as an 18-year-old amateur, Ferguson added: “We’ve spent time in China and invested in it, but what actually started it all was when an amateur player played in the China Open and won it.
“That’s what creates markets and stars and followings.
“We are committed to the amateur game. Shaun’s comments do have some validity, but I am very much a fan of amateur top-ups and wild-cards.
“The biggest crime for me would be to find out there are two byes because two players couldn’t make it for whatever reason. For me it is a crime if that opportunity for somebody in the world has been missed. I never want to leave the sport thinking we have wasted an opportunity.”
Zhao, who also qualified for the Masters and the Grand Prix as a result of his win, was sitting out this week’s Scottish Open after failing to come through September’s qualifying rounds.
But there was further evidence of the strength in depth in the Chinese game on the first morning of the tournament in Llandudno, as 21-year-old Pang Junxu whitewashed former world finalist Barry Hawkins 4-0 in the opening round.