DING Junhui’s season took another turn for the worse at the German Masters in Berlin as he suffered a first-round exit at the hands of Ryan Day.
After sweeping almost all before him last season, with a record-equalling five ranking titles, the current campaign has been pretty underwhelming by the high standards of China’s No1.
The title defences are three down, two to go and with the exception of Shanghai, where Ding reached the semi-finals in September, other results have not been good.
Ding failed to even qualify for the other big two Chinese events to date, the Wuxi Classic and the International Championship in Chengdu, something that prompted a lot of unhappiness in the Far East and triggered a tweaking of the qualifying format and allowing the top two ranked home players, and the world and defending champion to have their matches held over.
He did not travel to Australia, and fell at the third round stage of the UK and first round at the Masters – with one further semi-final at the Champion of Champions.
While defeat to Day was not a total surprise – the Welshman has shown some improved form himself in the past 12 months – the 27-year-old Ding appears to be lacking any spark right now, despite arriving in Berlin as world No1.
Ding’s ascent to the top of the rankings is obviously primarily based on his 2013-14 heroics, but his time there has been a statistical oddity. He got there for the first time for a week in December only to be immediately replaced by Neil Robertson.
And then he got there again in January after the Asian Tour event, but seems almost certain to lose it again after the Germany tournament – meaning he would have been world No1 twice for a total of three weeks.
Ding has plenty of events left to get some more prize money on the board, and he may need that looking ahead as clearly a lot of ground could be lost in a year’s time when some of the 2013-14 money starts to come off.
And as ever there will be focus on his frankly odd record at the Crucible, where he has got past the second round just twice, and reached one semi-final. For a player of Ding’s calibre, it suggests he just doesn’t feel comfortable and play his best at the venue, more surprising given Sheffield is his adopted home city in the UK.
For all that Ding comes over as philosophical about his season, far more so than would have been the case a couple of years ago. He no longer appears consumed by the expectations levels and happy to shrug it off as a ‘bad season’, though it is by no means over yet.
Ding, who mishit an easy match-ball pink to win 5-3, said: “The last pink with the rest I mishit it, I left the cue ball too far away from my cue and I just didn’t hit it straight.
“I had confidence coming back here and obviously good memories from last year, it just isn’t a good season at the moment but that is okay. On to the next tournament.
“It would have been very difficult to match last season, and almost anything I did this time would have looked bad by comparison. I did almost too well.
“I haven’t had the odd bit of luck that I got last season, and maybe I should not have missed all the European Tour events, and played more. But of course I am looking forward to the World Championship. I am playing well in practice so it is just bringing it to matches.
“I am playing in India and defending that title, so there are plenty of events to get some wins.”
Wouldn’t it be typical of snooker if Ding arrived at the Crucible this year with for once no one tipping him and went all the way. Not such a different scenario to Mark Selby last year, after he had struggled to produce his best for much of the season.
Photograph by Monique Limbos