Speak to any of the leading current or former top professionals about the current state of play with regard to the conveyor belt of talent and one theme crops up in almost every conversation – that most of the best young talent in the Under-20 category is Chinese.
And three names crop up more than any other – Yan Bingtao, Zhou Yuelong, and Zhao Xintong.
Zhao, a wild-card menace to the professionals in his amateur days in the Chinese ranking events, is now on the tour and has been featured more than once on Inside Snooker. His style is attacking and he first announced his ability by beating former world champion Ken Doherty as a 15-year-old at the International Championship in Chengdu.
The 19-year-old finally made in on tour this summer, losing to Pankaj Advani in the final of the IBSF World Championship but snaffling a two-year tour card after the Indian billiards world champion turned the place down. Many pros will have been relieved to see the possibility of having to face world No85 Zhao in a preliminary round disappear.
However the other two, last year’s shock World Cup winning pairing of Zhou and Yan, clash at the Betway UK Championship at York’s Barbican Centre on Monday night.
The day’s headlines, certainly in the UK, may be taken by Ronnie O’Sullivan’s match against Michael Georgiou, Mark Selby’s clash with Rob Milkins, and the latest match featuring one of the Lines family as dad Peter plays Liam Highfield.
But the eyes of China and more than a few fellow professionals will also be on a tussle that could prove the forerunner of big matches, even finals, to come in the future.
That World Cup triumph, that saw them selected as ‘China B’ as the hosts’ extra team, ended with them beating the vastly more experienced John Higgins and Stephen Maguire in the final. Maguire said afterwards he believed he had seen two future world champions in action.
And others, such as former world champion Graeme Dott, have tipped both to do some real damage in the sport in the coming years.
Zhou, now 18 and in his third year on tour, is blessed with a fine all-round game and temperament, reflected in consistent wins over older pros and also a fine win over Stuart Bingham at last year’s Champion of Champions.
But Yan, just 16, in his first year as a pro having deferred the move for a year and already up to No77 in the rankings, has also made a huge impression on those watching him with his talent and composure. Yan has had a big win over Shaun Murphy, also at last year’s Champion of Champions.
The fact that most snooker observers would instantly reel off these three as future contenders but would struggle to do the same for UK or Ireland youngsters is a worry, and a topic for another feature. Meanwhile China can afford to sit back, enjoy the match, and know that at least one of them will be through to the last 16 of the UK.