Snooker wonder proves father knows best
By Wu Jiao
With impressive victories in the China Open in April and the UK
Championship this month, 18-year-old Chinese snooker prodigy Ding
Junhui lit up this year's snooker world with unprecedented brilliance.
Born on April 1, 1987 in Yixing, a city 180 kilometres from Shanghai,
snooker superstar Ding Junhui has accomplished an impressive string
of victories since 2000.
At the age of 13, Ding won his first prize by finishing third in
an Asian Invitational Tournament.
He further stunned the snooker world in 2002 by winning both the
Asian under-21 and senior titles and the World Under-21 Championship
in Latvia. In the same year, snooker's new star won a gold medal
in the Asian Games and reached the semi-finals of the World Amateur
Due to his outstanding amateur record during 2002-03, he turned
professional at the age of 16.
Ding became the second youngest winner of the ranking tournament
on April 3, two days after his 18th birthday, which made him the
first Asian winner since James Wattana in 1995.
Taking the UK title, the sport's second-biggest tournament, raised
him from number 62 to 31 in the world rankings.
While the world cheered his success, Ding's competitors also gave
a thumbs-up for this remarkable young man.
"It was only a matter of time before he joined the sport's
elite," said Steve Davis, the six-time World Champion who was
beaten 10-6 by Ding in the final of the UK Championship.
The words most frequently used by
the media when describing Ding are "ice-cool" and "mature".
As a matter of fact, Ding is mature for his age and looks very relaxed
on the big stage. He is very strong in taking the initiative to
attack and his performance has impressed his opponents.
"There are loads of people who can pot balls but his level
of maturity marks him out as something special," said Davis.
"I'm pretty certain he'll be a top-eight player fairly soon."
With Ding's success all but assured, the question now is whether
it will all go to his head. "I will always keep my feet on
the ground. I play snooker just for my interest, not for the sake
of fame. So, fame will not influence my play," he said.
Even now, having reached the heights in world snooker, Ding practises
as hard as always - eight hours a day from 10 am to 6 pm, without
a day off.
According to Ding Wenjun, Ding Junhui's father, the most remarkable
feature of his son is that he keeps a cool head, an important characteristic
for a snooker player.
"His cool-headedness and modesty help him to play steadily
in every match," said Ding Wenjun, the father.
While many snooker fans may easily list the prizes Ding has won,
few of them know that he first entered the field as a wild card.
According to Ding Wenjun, who also was a snooker player, he first
detected his son's talent when Ding was just 8.
"When I was playing with my friends, he was attracted by the
colourful balls and would play by himself on another table for a
whole day," said the father. "Then I decided to cultivate
In order to ensure that the boy always had a table on which to practise,
Ding Wenjun gave up his business and opened a snooker club.
"That way I could reserve a table for my son at any time, and
more people would come to play, which would help him practise,"
said the father.
According to Ding Junhui, his father put so much time and energy
into his training that the family business suffered.
One year later, Ding Junhui was unbeatable in his hometown. He began
to receive systematic training and participate in senior events
at the age of 11. Immediately his adult opponents found he was almost
In order to further improve Ding Junhui's skill, the senior Ding
decided to bring the boy to Dongguan in Guangdong Province, where
the national snooker team trains.
"I wanted to find a better tutor for my son there. I wanted
my son to improve more in that environment," he said.
But their stay in Dongguan was to be full of hardship.
To support Ding's training in the local snooker club, his father
had to work as a casual labourer. With no money for rent, father
and son lived in a five-square-metre room partitioned off from the
"It possessed no decent beds, but just a board supported by
some abandoned trestles," recalled the father. "Mosquitoes
and humidity made it hard to sleep in summer."
Finally, they ran out of their savings as Ding Junhui took part
in more and more competitions.
"I made a long-distance call to my wife who had stayed in Yixing,
asking her to sell our house. It was the family's last possession,"
said Ding Wenjun.
"I really owe my deepest gratitude to my father for his perseverance.
He is my greatest friend," Ding Junhui told China Daily, full
Ding's later success proved his father's decision to take him to
Guangdong was worth the adversity.
"Playing with the outstanding players there helped me greatly.
I made good progress through that experience," said the youthful
But Ding Wenjun's decision to train his young son as a professional
snooker player aroused much controversy.
"It is quite a bet on life. What if the boy hadn't succeeded
and in the meantime lost the best years of study," said a mother
who heard of Ding's story.
Facing such scepticism, the father said he would never regret his
"I initially didn't expect my boy to be so remarkable. I just
followed his interest and wanted to bring his snooker potential
into full play. I have always thought that we should give those
who are really talented a chance to realize their dreams,"
said Ding Wenjun.
Actually, another snooker prodigy, Liang Wenbo, who ranks among
the top 100 in the snooker world, was also trained by Ding Wenjun.
With fame now arriving, Ding's father told the media that he hopes
his son wins the world championship.
But according to Ding Junhui: "My next target has not been
decided. But I will take every match seriously as a chance to improve
myself. I hope there is a bigger stage for me."
Ding Junhui said he felt lucky to have the chance to play against
"They each have their own style. Only by dealing with each
of them will I become fully prepared in any situation," said
Ding said that being the only Chinese superstar in world snooker
was lonely, at times.
"I hope there will be many more Chinese players in the future
who perform well in the major tournaments, and I believe there will
be," he said.
There are three Chinese players on snooker's professional tour:
Ding, Liang Wenbo (world No 84) and Jin Long (100).
Continuing his studies has become a high priority for both Ding
and his parents.
According to the senior Ding, after his son gave up his schooling
at the age of 13 in order to concentrate on snooker, Ding Junhui
has learned from tutors for two or three hours every day.
"But it is still far from enough," said Ding Wenjun.
According to Lu Hao, Ding's agent, the boy is communicating with
several universities in Shanghai to choose the right major to study.
Ding's legend in snooker has provoked considerable admiration among
Chinese students, who are mostly urged by their parents to study
hard and never consider any other possibility in life.
"The magic achieved by Ding proves that we have many roads
to choose between for our future development, rather than just study,
study and study," said Wang Shan, a 12-year-old middle school
boy from Ding's hometown.
But Ding said that he does not recommend that other children give
up their studies without prudent consideration.
"It really depends on each individual. If you think you are
really interested and also talented in one way, just pursue it.
Otherwise, you'd better follow the normal path," said Ding
Ding was once camera shy, but now he seems to enjoy the attention.
"A fully mature person should be experienced in every aspect
of life. Social communication is also a skill that Ding Junhui is
learning to handle properly," said his agent, Lu.
In his spare time, Ding likes to watch Jackie Chan movies and enjoys
"Both of them bring me total relaxation," he said.