Wilting under the weight of expectations: Ding Junhui’s world championship dream shattered by ruthless Barry Hawkins
China’s great title hope crashes out at the Crucible Theatre in the quarter-finals as Englishman seals his fourth semi-final spot in the past five editions
Chinese snooker superstar Ding Junhui’s bid to become the first Asian player to win the world title will have to wait a further year as English opponent Barry Hawkins outclassed him 13-5 in his quarter-final.
Ding, 31, looked far off the player who had been made the favourite to be crowned world champion after the first-round exit of defending champion Mark Selby and then the second-round departure of the five-time champion “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Hawkins, who beat Ding in 2013 on the way to a surprise appearance in the final where he lost to O’Sullivan, led 11-5 overnight and clinically rounded off the victory taking the first two frames on offer on Wednesday.
Indeed the 39-year-old Englishman finished with a flourish with a superb break of 117 – is second century of the encounter – to earn himself a semi-final spot for the fourth time in the past five editions.
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Hawkins, who faces either two-time champion Mark Williams or Ali Carter in the semi-finals, said Ding, whose best performance at the worlds is losing to Selby in the 2016 final, had perhaps wilted under the weight of expectation back in China.
“I punished him every time he made a mistake and when someone is doing that against you, it is easy to miss a few,” said Hawkins.
“I managed to keep him under pressure. And there is a lot of pressure on his shoulders too.
“Winning 6-2 [after the first session] was huge and I am happy to get over the line. I felt like he gave up at the end.”
Ding vowed he would be crowned world champion one day.
“I believe I can still win this one day,” he said. “I’ll always keep up my hopes and I’ll never give up. I’m a sportsman, I can’t give up.”
Ding, who had been magnificent in his second round match destroying promising Scotsman Anthony McGill 13-4, was philosophical about his under-performance against Hawkins.
“Some days you play well, some days are different,” said Ding.
“I tried to play well and score heavily but what can I say? It wasn’t working out there.”
Hawkins’ compatriot Kyren Wilson is in a similar position leading Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen 11-5 after some dynamic potting.
Wilson won seven of the second session’s eight frames to leave Allen shell-shocked and the Englishman in sight of avenging his loss to the same player in January’s Masters final.
Scotland’s John Higgins and Williams of Wales, the two remaining former world champions in the draw, are locked in tough battles of their own.
Quadruple champion Higgins, the beaten finalist last year, trails Judd Trump 7-6 in a repeat of the 2011 final which the Scotsman won.
Williams, who pledged to appear naked at the press conference if he goes on to reach the final, is level 4-4 with two-time finalist Ali Carter, who ousted O’Sullivan.