Ding Junhui is hoping his brilliant form this season can guide him to another major title this week.
The Sheffield-based Chinese cueman is one of the favourites to win the inaugural 888casino Champion of Champions tournament which kicked off at Coventry’s Ricoh Arena yesterday.
Stars including Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Judd Trump and Neil Robertson are all competing in the new £270,000 event. But Ding has stood head and shoulders above his fellow professionals this season. Last monthheDing became the first professional since Stephen Hendry 20 years ago to win three successive ranking crowns.
“I’ve been really pleased with my form this season, it’s been nice winning titles” Ding told The Star. “But I’d really like to challenge for one of the big tournaments this season, they are the ones I look forward to. My form is very good and feel very confident, so I’m happy.”
Ding kicks off his quest for the £100,000 first prize on Friday on the last day of the last 16 and quarter-final matches.
The 26-year-old faces Dartford’s Barry Hawkins, last season’s World Championship finalist, in the last 16 stage.
If he wins that best-of-seven frame duel with Hawkins he would play either five-time world champion O’Sullivan or wildcard Mark Davis in the evening session.
Victory would earn Ding a place in Saturday’s semi-finals, with Sunday’s showcase final to be contested over the best-of-19 frames.
And for four-time world champion Higgins, there’s no doubt in his mind that Ding is one of the players to beat if he stands any chance of winning the crown.
“Ding Junhui is just in fantastic form at the moment,” said Higgins. “He has matured a lot as a person and a player in recent months.
“He is the complete package on the table and he has unbelievable talent.”
Today former UK champion Trump takes on Hong Kong’s Marco Fu, while Ricky Walden plays Stuart Bingham.
Tomorrow world No 1 Robertson takes on Martin Gould, while Ulsterman Mark Allen faces former Crucible runner-up Ali Carter.
Televised live throughout on ITV4, this year’s six-day tournament features 16 champions of the previous season