NEIL Robertson’s exit to Graeme Dott on Wednesday night at the Coral UK Championship last-16 stage meant that Ding Junhui will be world No1 for a first time next week.

The 27-year-old Ding, who takes over from Mark Selby, is the first ever Asian player to reach the summit of the game, and the achievement certainly carries a symbolism beyond the actual feat itself.

There will be plenty of young Chinese snooker wannabes seeing that news on Thursday and targeting similar success for themselves.

The path to the top of the game has been a long, and not always smooth one for Ding, who came over to the UK as a 15-year-old - torn away from his home and family and for a long time desperately homesick.

But the predictions of senior professionals and champions such as Peter Ebdon that the shy teenager was destined to reach the very top have been shown to be correct.

Ding burst onto the scene by winning the China Open as a wildcard as a teenager in 2005, beating Stephen Hendry 9-5 in the final – and a first UK Championship title followed later that year.

Still Ding often struggled though in the qualifiers, left uninspired by the set-up and relative lack of atmosphere – but that was a hurdle that was always going to be overcome in time.

From 2009 the titles started to flow more regularly, culminating in a record-equalling season in 2013-14 when Ding matches Stephen Hendry’s mark of five ranking tournament successes.

Ding now has 11 ranking titles, putting him sixth on the all-time list behind only Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams.

But there is a gaping hole on his CV that he needs to plug to be considered up alongside those names – winning the World Championship at the Crucible.

Ding’s record in Sheffield, ironically his adopted home, is poor – with one semi-final against Judd Trump in 2011 to show for his efforts.

And he has almost limped into top spot having not enjoyed the best of starts to the current campaign, including a shock defeat to James Cahill at the UK in York – his position having largely been secured through last term’s efforts.

But it remains an important milestone, now dictated by the prize money list rather than ranking points, and Ding becomes the 11th player to be ranked the No1 player.

World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said: “Congratulations to Ding as the first Asian player to become world No1 it's a great achievement. The goal for him is out there now: can he win the World Championship and bring the crown back to China?

“His match on Tuesday night night against James Cahill was fantastic. He ended up losing but that's what happens sometimes. The fact is, he's not world No1 by luck, he has got there on performance. He won't win everything.”


Photograph by Monique Limbos