Ding Junhui (pictured above) is the best player that China has ever produced but why is it that he has underachieved in snooker? His dip in recent form is clearly apparent with the clear amount of space in his trophy cabinet. It is true that he has won the UK Championship and the Masters in 2009 and 2011 but his last ranking title was the World Open in 2017. To find out what is actually going wrong with his game and form you have to delve deeper. From his body language when he misses a shot. I have studied him over a period of time and he always adopts the same pose; he sits with head in his hands. This is like Christmas Day for his opponent because they can sense vulnerability and potential victory.
This dejection in his character is in my opinion threefold. Firstly, people should appreciate that there is so much pressure from his fan base in China to win. Like a rock-star he can’t go out in China without being mobbed by fans who want a piece of him, in the form of a selfie or an autograph. When he plays in Beijing, Shanghai or Wuxi you can hear the screaming from the audience of “Ding” as the crowd move to the front of the auditorium with their phones and programmes waiting to be signed. To comprehend this pressure you have to look at the popularity of Ronnie O’Sullivan and multiply it by 100 to begin to understand what he is going through on a day to day basis.
Secondly, Ding became a father this year when his wife Apple gave birth to their daughter. Anyone who becomes a father for the first or anytime knows your focus wavers because your child is understandably the centre of your world and anything else comes second. Unfortunately in snooker you have to be constantly in “the zone” and if you step out of it then your game will suffer and I feel this has happened in Ding’s case. I am not criticising Junhui for this but it has clearly caused a weakness in his sporting potential.
Thirdly, Ding lost his mother to cancer in 2017 and this has clearly traumatised the Chinese player. I can empathise with him as I lost my mother to the same illness in 2002 and the pain that grief causes is indescribable. You never get over losing a parent, just come to terms with the loss but there is no set time-frame for this. Ding Junhui has to heal and until beings all his anguish under control then he will not achieve big, especially his goal of winning the World Championship.
Perhaps the solution is to seek solace with a sport’s therapist. This worked for Ronnie O’Sullivan in the form of Steve Peters. I think Ding was half way there when he was coached by Terry Griffiths. His calmness and methodical approach has helped Mark Allen and Marco Fu improve their game but sadly Terry has recently decided to not be a mainstream coach anymore. Terry may have been in the background but people forget that as a professional player he won everything, including the celebrated Triple Crown events.
Ding needs to go back to the drawing board but with careful changes and he can certainly win again!
One of Ding’s greatest triumphs was winning the Master and here is the final frame of that match for you to enjoy.
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