DING JUNHUI won an incredible fourth ranking title of the season on Sunday night in Berlin – the first player to do so since Stephen Hendry managed it fully 23 years ago.
The world No3 was forced to raise his game by English rival Judd Trump and put in a superb display to win the German Masters final 9-5 in Berlin and earn himself the winner’s cheque of £70,000.
No player had lifted four of the major trophies in the same campaign since Scottish legend Hendry won five in the 1990-91 season – in his case the Grand Prix, Asian Open, Dubai Classic, UK Championship and British Open.
Ding, 26, had already won in Shanghai, Delhi and Chengdu in the autumn and can match Hendry’s feat by following up his success in the Tempodrom with victory at the Welsh Open in Newport later this month. He might rather it was for a first world title at the Crucible, though.
It was a 10th ranking title in all for Ding, taking him to joint 6th on the all-time list alongside Jimmy White and it was also revenge for defeat that still hurts.
Ding has still not tasted success in Sheffield, and he lost a thrilling semi-final at the Crucible 17-15 to Trump three years ago. Ding also beat Mike Dunn, Mark Williams, Dominic Dale, Joe Perry and Ryan Day on his way to the trophy in Germany.
“It feels unbelievable,” said Ding. “I am very happy to win this title, a great way to celebrate in the week of the Chinese New Year.
“To be the first player to win a fourth title in the same season since Stephen Hendry makes me very proud. I am playing well and near the top of my form.”
For Trump it was a bitter pill after playing his best snooker for months in Berlin, and looking well set for a first ranking title for 14 months at 4-2 up in the afternoon.
But after a series of early exits and poor results this season there were at least clear signs of a return to his best form.
“I am very disappointed, but Ding put me under a lot of pressure from 4-2 up and I hardly saw a ball,” said Trump. “It has been my best tournament of the season and I can get a lot of confidence from this.”
Trump had raised the issue of the conveyor belt of talent drying up in the United Kingdom and contrasted that situation with the one in China, where most involved in the sport could name a handful of teenage prospects with huge potential.
But the left-hander was also confident he could help stave off Chinese domination for a good few years, and he arrived in the final having played the best snooker of the week, dropping just four frames in five matches including two whitewashes over Mark King and Michael Holt.
All the old confidence and swagger looked to be back after months of poor results and early exits from the major tournaments, and he should have taken a commanding lead into the decisive evening session but let Ding off the hook.
Trump led 3-1 helped by breaks of 80 and 48, and after Ding cut the deficit to one frame with a run of 76 the 2011 world finalist restored his advantage with a great effort of 33. But the next frame proved pivotal as Trump squandered chances to guarantee a deserved lead for the finale, and he was pegged back to 4-4.
The danger was that Ding, who together with world No1 Neil Robertson has swept almost all before him this season, would accelerate after being handed a lifeline – and unfortunately for Trump that is what happened.
By the time Ding had gone 7-4 ahead with breaks of 125, 101 and 72 he had scored 460 unanswered points, and then rubbed salt into the open wounds by stealing frame 12 on the black to go four up with five to play - and that proved enough.
Photographs by Monique Limbos