ZHAO XINTONG is desperate to join the ranks of the professionals – and most of those already in the club would be only too happy to see him make that leap.
The 17-year-old narrowly failed to earn a tour card last year when he lost to Chinese compatriot Zhou Yuelong 8-4 in the final of the IBSF World Championship.
And that meant he would be back as a wild-card menace this season in the Chinese ranking tournaments where his reputation among more illustrious opponents is one of a man to be feared.
The left-handed teenage prospect looks to have all the attributes to have a long and successful career in snooker, possessing attacking flair, a fine all-round game and an excellent temperament.
And Zhao is one of arguably the strongest young group China have ever boasted in the quest for the ‘new Ding’, along with Zhou, Lyu Haotian and Yan Bingtao.
He was unable to compete at Q-School last year but will certainly be there next May unless already qualified. He can also have another go at securing his card without Yuelong in the field via the IBSF route before that, the event taking place later this year in Bangalore.
But for many already on the circuit, the sooner they can travel 6,000 miles without having to face him in an extra round, the better.
Zhao has not only won a large number of wildcard matches, but has now started following those victories up with further wins going deeper into a draw – a sign of real promise, and something that has happened again at the International Championship .
In Chengdu this year it was Jamie Jones that drew the short straw, going down 6-5, before Zhao then took out Kurt Maflin 6-3 to reach the last 32 where he would take on Li Hang.
But those players can take solace from the fact they are far from alone. The wild-card system comes in for its fair share of criticism, many claiming it is obsolete now for established territory China where there are other playing opportunities now – but at least it was not wasted on Zhao.
In season 2012-13 he lost to Mark King at the Shanghai Masters; beat Ken Doherty before losing 6-5 to Matthew Stevens at the International Championship; beat Andrew Higginson before losing to Stuart Bingham, and in the China Open beat Jamie Cope before losing to Ali Carter.
In the following campaign there were three wins at the International Championship over Steve Davis, Craig Steadman and an impressive 6-1 thrashing of Barry Hawkins before losing to Marco Fu in the last 16. In Beijing he beat Sam Baird before losing to Michael White.
And this term Zhao has left victims trailing in his wake. At the time of writing on Monday in Chengdu he has already in three events accounted for Andrew Norman, Chris Melling, Jack Lisowski, Matt Selt, Marco Fu, Jones and Maflin.
Even in the Asian Tour event earlier in October this year he only lost 4-2 to eventual winner Bingham – two more frames than Ding Junhui got against the same opponent in the same event.
Zhao is the son of two doctors, and those close to him say they have been a huge factor in instilling in him discipline and a strong work ethic, and keeping his feet on the ground. He is now based in the CBSA Academy in Beijing, as good a training facility as there is in the world.
Zhao has been highlighted previously on Inside Snooker but speaking to us in Chengdu he said: “I have won some matches as a wildcard in ranking tournaments, and of course it is nice if professional players don’t want to face me and I have that reputation.
“That shows I am heading towards my goal of joining them as a professional, something I would like to do as soon as possible.
“I am very satisfied with the progress that I have made over the past two years, since playing here in Chengdu as a 15-year-old.
“I am gaining experience all the time, and I feel I have grown as a player working very hard on my game at the Academy in Beijing.
“I was born in Xi’an but grew up mainly in Shenzhen before moving to Beijing which is my practice base now between tournaments.
“My dream is of course to win a world championship in the future. But for now the immediate goal is to get on to the man tour and be a professional snooker player.
“If that happens I will then move to Britain and be based there for at least some of the year, as many other Chinese players have done.
“My favourite player is Ronnie O’Sullivan, he is very successful and also plays snooker with a lot of style that I enjoy watching.”
At the time of writing a clash with O’Sullivan in the last 16 in Chengdu was still a possibility – but even if not here it seems likely that will happen sooner rather than later.
Photograph courtesy of World Snooker