Well that didn’t last very long. Tipped by many to become the next world snooker champion after his record-breaking season, China’s Ding Junhui lost to qualifier Michael Wasley 10-9 in the first round in what World Snooker’s official website called “one of the biggest first round shocks in Crucible history”.
Snooker may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s perhaps the best example of the Chinese taking over a sport in a short space of time. Since Ding Junhui won his first China Open title in 2005 as an 18-year-old (he added his second on Sunday), the sport has grown so much here that there are now 13 Chinese in the world’s top 100 players, and five of the season’s 11 full ranking tournaments now take place in China. In TV viewing terms, it’s now firmly established in the second tier of sports (with basketball and soccer the only true Tier 1 occupants).
Stephon Marbury could be in line for a second statue in Beijing. Having missed most of the season through injury, he has inspired the Beijing Ducks in the CBA playoffs, leading them into a finals showdown against the Xinjiang Flying Tigers after a 3-2 series win against the Guangdong Southern Tigers.
Any fan of snooker will be familiar with Stephen Hendry and Jimmy “The Whirlwind” White, two of the greatest players in history. Well, add Chinese player Ding Junhui to that list.
Chinese snooker star Ding Junhui has just managed something that none of John Higgins, Mark WIlliams and even Ronnie O’Sullivan has ever achieved: winning three ranking titles in a row. He completed the hat-trick with a 10-9 victory over Marco Fu in the final of the International Championship in Chengdu, to go with his Shanghai Masters title in September and his Indian Open win last month.
When you’re featured on the CCTV daily news, it’s safe to say you’ve made it. 3-year-old Wang Wuka from Anhui province plays snooker for five hours a day, under the watchful eye of his father. His claim to fame is that he can pot 15 balls in 10 seconds, though I’m more impressed by some of his long-range potting, given his size. China’s bona fide snooker star Ding Junhui recently talked about wanting to become an alien, due to the pressures that come with representing China, but Mr Wang clearly thinks this is his family’s route to riches. Even China’s golf prodigies aren’t this young. Burnout, anyone?
Tiger Woods and Ye Shiwen might make an unlikely couple, but both are prime examples of athletes who have lost their sporting mojos. This week’s Sports Talk column looks at why athletes struggle to get back to their top of their game after losing form:
We tend to think of sports as being a purely physical pursuit, but at the very top levels, it’s far more about mental strength than anything the body can do. Just as a novelist can get writer’s block and be paralyzed for months, once an athlete loses their sporting mojo, it can be very hard to retrieve.
Lists like SportsPro magazine’s Most Marketable Athletes [full list below] are equal parts inspired and enraging. I love the fact that Brazilian Paralympian Alan Oliveira (no. 17) is included, combining his age, talent and good looks with the undoubted boost to Brazilian sport that the next World Cup and Olympics will bring, almost as much as I hate the selection of Seth Jones (39), who is largely unknown even within his own sport, and, at 18, may not even play a single NHL game in the next three years even if he later develops into an All-Star.
Yao Ming is sadly no longer with us. The seven-week-old giraffe in Houston named after the Chinese NBA star was put down after a month-long bone infection couldn’t be treated. Sorry for leading with a tearjerker – I promise the other stories will be more cheerful!