Ding Junhui beats Judd Trump to set up UK final showdown with Ronnie O’Sullivan

Their clash comes 30 years after O’Sullivan reached his first UK final as a 17-year-old, while Ding’s first taste of UK glory came in 2005, aged 18.

Mark Staniforth
Saturday 02 December 2023 23:25 GMT
Ding Junhui (pictured) set up a UK Championship final against Ronnie O’Sullivan (Richard Sellers/PA)
Ding Junhui (pictured) set up a UK Championship final against Ronnie O’Sullivan (Richard Sellers/PA)

Ronnie O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui will roll back the years when they square off in the UK Snooker Championship final in York on Sunday.

Their clash comes 30 years after O’Sullivan reached his first UK final as a 17-year-old in 1993, while Ding’s first taste of UK glory came in 2005 when he saw off four-time winner Steve Davis at the age of 18.

The pair came through their respective semi-finals in contrasting circumstances on Saturday, with O’Sullivan easing past Hossein Vafaei 6-2, while Ding held his nerve to deny Judd Trump with a 6-4 win in the evening session.

O’Sullivan and Ding – still the two youngest winners of the prestigious trophy – boast 10 UK titles between them and the world number one quipped that he was motivated by the desire to deny his rivals the chance of more silverware.

“I’m just hanging around so people don’t get as good as a career as me,” joked O’Sullivan, who ruthlessly exploited a series of costly errors from his Iranian opponent to seal by far his most comfortable victory of a gruelling week.

“If I could stop (Mark) Selby winning a few and Judd winning a few, and Ding and (Neil) Robertson winning a few – just ruin their careers a little bit – that would be great. Sometimes that’s just a nice motivation to play.”

O’Sullivan, who had previously laboured through final-frame deciders against Robert Milkins and Zhou Yuelong, was still far from his best but managed to ruthlessly exploit a string of errors by Vafaei, who spurned a good chance in five of the six frames won by his opponent.

“I feel as fresh as a daisy,” added a revitalised O’Sullivan afterwards.

“These tournaments are not a problem. I can do it quite comfortably. I’m still happy to have got this far, it’s great and I have enjoyed my week.”

Sunday’s clash will also see a repeat of last year’s quarter-final when Ding dealt out a rare 6-0 whitewash to O’Sullivan before going on to the final, where he surrendered a 6-1 lead to fall 10-7 to Mark Allen.

The Chinese 36-year-old, who also won the tournament in 2009 and 2019, had arrived in York considering withdrawal due to a serious bout of ‘flu, but like O’Sullivan, had managed to chisel out final-frame wins over Allen, then Mark Williams in Friday’s last eight.

Trump, also clearly still feeling the effects of illness, had reached the last four despite playing far from his best and will have been motivated by the possibility of facing O’Sullivan in the final with the title and the world number one ranking also at stake.

Trump started well with two centuries in the first eight frames but he could not shake off the dogged Ding, with the pair locked together at 4-4 before Ding nudged through a tense ninth to put himself one frame from victory.

Trump had the first chance to stretch the tie into another decider but jawed a relatively-simple red to middle and Ding stepped in with a nerveless 84 clearance to black, including a stunning long red after straying out of position, to seal his swift return in the final.

Ding, who routinely saves his best form for York, admitted such a scenario had seemed impossible when he was ailing midway through his first-round match against Allen.

“A lot of fans were watching and I just wanted to finish it – it didn’t matter how well I played, maybe I lost and would go home, I’d just try my best,” he admitted.

Of his win over Trump, Ding added: “It was a very tough match and the last few reds were a bit scrappy, but to pot that long red and go on to win the frame is saying something to myself.

“I hadn’t seen myself playing like that for a long time.”

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