China's Ding Junhui lost his way in the final of the British Masters last night, conceding the match a frame too early to Ronnie O'Sullivan.
The 19-year-old offered his hand to O'Sullivan with the score at 9-3 in a gesture that suggested he had had enough as play broke for an interval. O'Sullivan led the tearful teenager back to his dressing-room to offer a kind word, explaining to the Chinese he had got his sums wrong and it was the best of 19 not 17.
The pair returned to the table and O'Sullivan quickly went on to clinch the match 10-3.
The Englishman, a controversial figure himself who staged a walkout from the UK Championships last month, had words of sympathy for his opponent.
"Ding is one of the rarest talents that I have seen and there is no doubt in my mind that he will become a multiple winner," he said.
Ding had got off to a flying start, racing to a two-frame lead with quickfire breaks of 77 and 109, but then O'Sullivan came storming back to clinch his third Masters title, winning the last three frames 143-0, 97-0 and 121-3.
Ding, who appeared upset by remarks from a member of the audience, said: "I thought he had won the ninth frame of 17 and the match was over.
"It is very different to events like the China Open because the fans go in groups and I felt very alone here. I was a bit annoyed with the man's comments because I couldn't concentrate," he added.
Ding had begun the tournament a week ago with a maximum 147 break live on television. He is the youngest player to achieve the feat, having beaten the previous record which was held by O'Sullivan.
The evening session began with O'Sullivan 5-3 up and he came out of the blocks firing. Ding missed a long red and O'Sullivan coolly slotted home a brilliant 96 break to increase his lead to three frames. That lead soon became four when Ding overcut a red into the top left pocket and O'Sullivan pounced to compile a 66 break.
China's brightest young star looked way off the pace and O'Sullivan was not going to miss out. He quickly made it 8-3 with yet another superb break. A stunning 143 break - the second highest of the tournament after Ding's 147 - took O'Sullivan within two frames of victory.
The Englishman made a 48, only to break down in the next frame. But Ding failed to take advantage and O'Sullivan got back in amongst the balls to wrap up the frame with a 49 run to leave him a frame away.
Then came the Ding drama. The players returned after a 20-minute break, but it made little difference to the final outcome, as O'Sullivan, with a break of 74, won the first frame after the interval to secure the first major title of the year. He will start as the favourite at the world championship.