Barely into his teens, Yan Bingtao was one of the first starry-eyed hopefuls through the door when snooker’s governing body the WPBSA threw open the doors of its gleaming new academy in Beijing in March 2013.
Seeking to capitalise on the trailblazing success of Ding Junhui, WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said he hoped the facility would “play its part in finding new talented players to follow in [Ding’s] footsteps.”
Almost eight years later, Ferguson watched Yan sink John Higgins to clinch an historic Masters title in Milton Keynes, and predicted it will signal the emergence of a new golden age of Chinese players at the top of the sport.
Ferguson told the PA news agency: “When we opened our Chinese academy, Yan was one of the first students in there and it is great to see where all his hard work has got him today.
“Yan always looked like he was the one with that little bit extra to give. I’ve seen so few players go frame-for-frame with John Higgins over the years, and his performance in the final was incredible.”
Despite Ding’s achievements, starting with his first of three UK titles in 2005, sparking a surge of unprecedented interest in the sport in his homeland, Chinese players capable of building on his legacy have proved elusive.
Only Liang Wenbo had emulated Ding in reaching a ‘triple crown’ final, but Yan’s dramatic emergence at the head of a 19-strong contingent of Chinese players who currently inhabit the world’s top 100 provides a unique and potentially lucrative opportunity for the sport.
“It’s incredible how many people in China were watching the final into the night and early morning last night, and it’s very hard to quantify the impact in financial terms,” added Ferguson.
“The Chinese market is around 30% of the whole world snooker tour these days, so it is a significant portion and to have this talent coming through is of enormous value for us.”
Fellow Chinese players such as Zhou Yuelong and Zhao Xintong have already earned the praise of some of snooker’s all-time greats, but the manner of Yan’s triumph over Higgins suggests he is in pole position to put the first Chinese hands on the Crucible crown.
“Yan has always had what it takes and he’s got the staying-power and ability to stick in there for the long haul,” added Ferguson.
“Ding is already a national hero, and I’ve got no doubt Yan is going to become one too.”
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