Zhao Xintong justified the hype that has been heaped upon his shoulders by completing a 10-5 win over Luca Brecel to claim the UK Championship crown in York.
Stars including Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan have queued up to anoint the Chinese 24-year-old as the next big thing, and the manner of his win over Brecel suggests many more major titles will flow his way.
But Zhao revealed his more immediate concern was to celebrate his historic triumph with a karaoke party back at his home in Sheffield.
“I will go home and have a good sleep, and maybe tomorrow I will sing karaoke,” said Zhao, who trains at the Victoria Snooker Academy in the city. “I will do the song ‘We Are The Champions’.”
Zhao and Brecel had contrived to rip up the established order in their respective semi-finals, Brecel firing four centuries in a 6-4 win over Kyren Wilson, while Zhao compiled six breaks in excess of 70 to sink Barry Hawkins.
And it appeared the exhilarating, one-frame snooker looked set to continue as Zhao, world-ranked 26 and never previously beyond the quarter-finals of a ranking event, marked his major final debut with an effortless break of 79.
Brecel, finally fulfilling the potential he first showed as the Crucible’s youngest ever qualifier in 2012, responded immediately with a 133, but it was inevitable that the magnitude of the occasion would begin to have an effect.
Zhao nudged back in front with a 61 but he was beginning to look more unsure on some of his shots, and Brecel took advantage with knocks of 33 and 47 to restore parity for a second time.
The Chinese player capitalised on Brecel’s failure to make the most of his chances as he moved 4-2 ahead, and looked a strong bet to seize control of the final as he neared another half-century with the balls at his mercy in the next.
But a simple missed black let in Brecel to ultimately reduce the deficit again, before Zhao rounded off an occasionally explosive and always intriguing afternoon session with a fine break of 78 to move five from the title at 5-3.
Just as he had at the start of the opening session, Zhao pounced following a Brecel break-off to polish off a break of 87, and a subsequent 120 – after Brecel had the first chance and missed a simple pink – suggested there was no way back for the Belgian.
Zhao was in again in the 11th frame but missed a pink to the middle on 27, and Brecel, under immense pressure, secured the frame with a coolly taken 64 to give himself a glimmer of hope at 7-4.
Brecel failed to punish Zhao for breaking down on 56 in the next as he moved within two frames of victory, but the Belgian did claw back the deficit with a well-taken 81 in the next after Zhao missed a simple red.
Nerves were clearly beginning to fray for the young Chinese player but he edged one frame from victory after benefitting from a tortuous snooker behind the yellow, then wrapped up his historic title in style with a match-winning break of 99.
Zhao revealed he had had a troubled night’s sleep prior to the final having not wished to tempt fate by booking an additional night in a hotel prior to his thumping win over Hawkins.
“I found a great hotel (in the end),” said Zhao. “I didn’t want to make myself nervous, so I didn’t book the hotel – because if I had lost, I could have gone to Sheffield and had karaoke yesterday.”
Brecel was magnanimous in defeat and joined the chorus of praise for the 24-year-old, insisting he has now cemented his place at the top of the sport.
“Zhao just didn’t give me a chance really,” said Brecel. “I think he potted three times off my break-off and made 80, 90 breaks.
“You would think at the end he would crumble but he didn’t, he just played the same stuff.
“If you make mistakes in a final it is disappointing but this time there was nothing I could do. He’s only 24, he’s in the top eight now and he’s going to stay there until he dies.”
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe