The Sheffield snooker academy behind Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao’s success

Inside a nondescript former office located on a quiet side street on the outskirts of Sheffield city centre, something special is afoot.

Monday, 6th December 2021, 3:47 pm

Despite its humble surroundings, Victoria's Snooker Academy on Scotland Street is the training base of 11 professional snooker players, including current Masters champion Yan Bingtao and this year’s UK Championship winner Zhao Xintong.

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The latter won his first ranking title in York on Sunday with a 10-5 victory over Luca Brecel and the Chinese 24-year-old has been tipped for stardom by snooker legends Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan, who described him as ‘our (Roger) Federer’.

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"Zhao has always had the natural talent but he has definitely improved the match play and tactical side of his game recently,” said Victoria Shi, who opened the facility in 2016.

“Regular practice with Yan Bingtao has helped with this.”

Victoria has been involved with snooker for 15 years and has a reputation in China for nurturing young talent.

An estimated 50 million players regularly pick up a cue in the country and around 150 million fans are thought to have watched last year’s World Championship at the Crucible on Chinese TV.

Zhao Xintong lifts the trophy after winning the final of the Cazoo UK Championship at the York Barbican. Photo: Richard Sellers/PA Wire.

Ding Junhui was the first Chinese player to gain global recognition in the sport and is also based in Sheffield. He too runs an academy for professional players on Haymarket in the city centre.

Victoria added: “Snooker is a huge sport in China and over the last decade there has been an increasing number of professional players from there.

"We decided to set up a world class academy in Sheffield – the home of snooker - with perfect playing conditions and give these young players the best chance to succeed.

"We look after them off the table so they can maximise their natural talent on the table.”

As well as Chinese professionals, British players including Ashley Hugill also practise at Victoria’s along with Germany’s Lukas Kleckers and Iulian Boiko of Ukraine, who is just 16.

The venue is open to the public and hosts the likes of O’Sullivan, Mark William and Stephen Hendry during the annual World Championship.

Jason Ferguson, the chairman of snooker’s governing body, the WPBSA, believes a new era of Chinese dominance of the sport could be on the horizon.

He 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.”

Ferguson said there are 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.

Previously, around a third of events on the tour took place in China.

“The future is very bright for Victoria’s Snooker Academy and Zhao Xintong,” Victoria added.

"He was trending on social media in China yesterday and is very popular over there. He hopes to continue working hard and achieving even more on the table

"For Victoria’s Snooker Academy, we hope his success inspires local Sheffield youngsters to pick up a cue and give snooker a go.”