DING JUNHUI admitted that a match-up against Ronnie O’Sullivan was a “dream final” having won the only previous ranking event showpiece the pair have contested.

That came at the Northern Ireland Trophy way back in 2006, in a match won 9-6 by the now 26-year-old who has won four major titles already this season.

As identified by world No3 Ding, he and O’Sullivan have not met as many times as they and the watching millions would have liked in the latter stages of big events.

There was of course the famous 10-3 win for O’Sullivan at the Masters final in 2007, when Ding almost broke down, shaken up by O’Sullivan’s brilliance on the table and a hostile and partisan crowd off it.

That year O’Sullivan also beat Ding 10-2 in the first round of the World Championships in what had looked a bad draw for both, but ended up with China’s No1 getting mauled.

But a combination of early exits from one or other player, an inability to come through an initial qualifier to reach the venue, and the non-entry of notably O’Sullivan to tournaments has kept the meetings special and rare.

And though it is hard to cavil about O’Sullivan’s last two world title wins, it would have been nice to see him take on and beat any or all of Ding, Mark Selby, John Higgins and Neil Robertson last year en route to a fifth crown.

It is hardly O’Sullivan’s fault that never happened, with the draw and early exits from his rivals rendering the outcomes of such match-ups pure speculation.

After his 6-4 win over Joe Perry in the semi-final Ding said: “It is a dream final against Ronnie. So many times I would have liked to play him in the later stages of a big tournament.

“But either I go out early, or maybe he doesn’t enter them or qualify for the venue, and the matches between us haven’t happened as often as I would like.

“We have missed each other in the draw many times for one reason or another.”

Though a superb display was the main talking point from O’Sullivan’s 6-2 win over Barry Hawkins, he admitted to a narrow escape at the mid-session interval.

The Rocket, leading 3-1 at the time, had left the media centre to make his way into the arena, asking referee Michaela Tabb to hold his cue while he tucked his shirt in.

But moments later O’Sullivan dashed back into the room saying “I could be docked a frame”, the penalty for not being ready to play, having forgotten his chalk.

Fortunately for him - maybe being a runner helps – he rushed back out to join Hawkins with seconds to spare before the players were ushered out.

But afterwards it led O’Sullivan to raise an incident that is still talked about by players a decade on, when Stephen Maguire was docked a frame for being late against Shaun Murphy.

O’Sullivan said: “I tried to time it going to the toilet and then going out to play, it was time to go and I swear I had my chalk in my pocket but I didn’t.

“As I came in I remembered when Shaun Murphy asked the referee where Stephen Maguire was after forgetting his chalk and he was docked a frame – but Barry is not the type of guy to try and get a frame like that.

“I was okay and it was a genuine mistake, I was cutting it a bit fine.”


Photographs by Monique Limbos