Ding Downs Mehta For India Glory

Hot on the heels of his victory at the Shanghai Masters last month, China’s Ding Junhui has today become the first man since Ronnie O’Sullivan back in 2003, to win back to back ranking event titles, with a brilliant 5-0 victory against Aditya Mehta today.

Take nothing away from Mehta however, it has been an incredible week for the Indian player at his home tournament, as he defied the odds to reach his first ranking event final.

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Coming into the final with victories over the likes of Stephen Maguire, Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon, Aditya Mehta needed just one more win to complete a fairytale week at his home tournament in New Delhi.

It was not to be however, as the in-form Ding Junhui produced the latest in a line of blistering performances in recent weeks to run out a 5-0 winner.

No doubt that Mehta had not had the best preparation coming into the final, having come through an enthralling semi-final against Stephen Maguire little over an hour before, but in truth Ding’s performance was to be near faultless, as he hit breaks of 107, 100, 93, 81, 52 and 30 to claim his latest ranking event title.

While the heroics of a number of perceived underdogs this week have grabbed the headlines, with victories against John Higgins and Neil Robertson in previous rounds prior to his display against Mehta, Ding is a thoroughly deserving winner of the event, underlining his status as one of the world’s best players at the moment.

The title marks Ding’s eighth career ranking event victory and notably his second in a row, emulating a feat last achieved by Ronnie O’Sullivan when he won the 2003 European Open and Irish Masters tournaments. As Ding himself told World Snooker following today’s victory, he is probably playing the best snooker of his career at the moment, matching his trademark heavy scoring, with an all-round game and mental fortitude that has steadily improved to this point during the past couple of seasons.

As for Mehta, while he could not complete victory and take home the title on home soil, his run this week has been nothing short of remarkable. Like recent Shanghai Masters finalist Xiao Guodong, Aditya has been steadily improving for a couple of years, but only now has he been able to show his potential to the wider world with a run deep into a ranking event tournament.

As well as the obvious confidence boost and financial reward that Aditya will take from the run, significantly his final appearance sees him vault up to 45th on the provisional end of season money list, assuring him of a place on the main tour for next season. He also climbs several places to 63rd in the current points based ranking list,  meaning that he will most likely be assured of a top 64 seeding at the upcoming UK Championship.

Of course it was not just Aditya flying the flag for India this week, but Pankaj Advani too did his country proud this week, defeating Marcus Campbell, Mark Allen and Stuart Bingham to reach the quarter-finals, before losing a tension-filled affair with Mehta in a deciding-frame.

As I have commented on Twitter a few times, in my experience, multiple world billiards champion Advani is a player who divides the opinions of a number of his fellow professionals, some raving about him, others not. Anthony McGill commented yesterday that there is nobody he loves watching snooker more than Advani yesterday and I can understand why. His style is unique, his knowledge from billiards second to none and this allows him to play shots that even after nearly 20 years of watching the game, certainly I have never seen before.

While his break-building might be something that could improve, his safety game is right up there and I do expect him to continue his climb up the rankings over the coming seasons.

On the subject of Anthony McGill, the talented Scotsman enjoyed arguably his strongest showing to date as a professional player this week, defeating Crucible finalist Barry Hawkins amongst others on his run to the quarter-finals. An intelligent and grounded young player who I have always had a lot of time for, Anthony has been threatening a run like this for some time and hopefully it will give him the confidence boost that he needs in order to push on even further.

Similarly, a shout out too to second season professional Robbie Williams, who fresh from his last four run at the ET5 event, repeated the feat in India to reach his first full-ranking event semi-final. Perhaps somewhat under the radar, Robbie enjoyed a solid debut season on the main tour last season, but this season he has definitely taken his results onto another level and like Mehta, has risen up the latest provisional money list as a result.

Elsewhere this week, Neil Robertson again impressed in the early rounds, five more centuries taking his season tally I believe to 33, before he lost out to perhaps the only man playing better than him at the moment in Ding Junhui, while John Higgins also showed signs of a return to form before also losing out to the eventual winner.

There were also good wins for Gary Wilson and Michael White, while Mark Williams claimed a notable scalp in world number two Mark Selby, before falling to the inspired Mehta in the next round. Mike Dunn was another who impressed with a run to the last 16 which sees him climb to 65th in the provisional money list and firmly in contention to remain on the tour for next season, having previously left himself a lot of work to do following a tough couple of years prior to this season.

All in all, while the tournament, to those in the UK at least, was done no favours by the decision not to televise it, both thanks to the runs of Mehta and Advani, together with favourable reviews of the conditions and strong local interest, the tournament appears to have been a great success. Given the runs of the two local players, surely the event will be able to return for next season and hopefully, World Snooker will be able to secure the venue for a longer period of time, opening the door for longer matches than the best of sevens seen this week.

We shall see. Next up comes the World Seniors Championship this weekend, before the professionals head further east for the AT3 and then International Championship events, the latter representing the biggest tournament of the season so far…