China’s Zhao Xintong claimed his first ranking title by winning the UK Championship with a nerveless 10-5 win over Luca Brecel in York.
Zhao, 24, was competing in his first career final but coolly despatched Belgium’s Brecel to become only the fourth non-British winner of the event.
Having gone 5-3 ahead after the first session, Zhao converted his advantage with ease in the evening session.
Zhao’s victory also means he moves up to ninth in the world rankings.
As well as lifting the trophy – one of snooker’s Triple Crown titles – and collecting £200,000 in prize money, Zhao will compete at next month’s invitational Masters tournament in London after moving into the elite top 16.
“I am just so happy,” Zhao told BBC Sport. “It was an exciting night tonight and I love York.
“It was the biggest match for me and it was my first time, so I tried my best because it was Luca. I feel very, very happy now. I am very excited.
“The UK Championship is a snooker theatre of dreams.”
The UK Championship returned to its familiar stage in York this year after taking place behind closed doors in Milton Keynes last time around.
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Another Triple Crown triumph for China
The final pitted two young, exciting talents against each other, after the early exits of a host of familiar names, including defending champion Neil Robertson, world champion Mark Selby and Judd Trump.
It was also the first UK final to have two players ranked outside the top 16 going head to head.
Seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan’s quarter-final exit guaranteed a new name would be etched on the trophy and it was the cool-headed Zhao who secured the biggest victory of his career.
Zhao joins Ireland’s Patsy Fagan and Australia’s Robertson as overseas winners of the tournament, as well as compatriot Ding Junhui, who triumphed the last time it was held at the Barbican.
But while Ding is sliding down the ranking and struggling for form, Chinese compatriots now hold two of the Triple Crown titles, after Yan Bingtao lifted the Masters trophy last January.
O’Sullivan had said earlier in the tournament he had not seen “a more talented snooker player” than Zhao, who improved on his previous best – reaching the semi-final of the 2018 China Championship – by taking home one of snooker’s biggest prizes.
Having demolished Barry Hawkins 6-1 in the semi-finals, the ‘Cyclone’ stormed his way through the final, compiling one century and six further breaks of 50 or more.
Brecel comes up short
Brecel knocked out O’Sullivan’s conqueror Kyren Wilson in the last four following a barrage of scoring, but despite getting on the board with a century, he was kept largely in check by Zhao.
The ‘Belgian Bullet’ was tipped to make a breakthrough when appearing at the 2012 World Championship aged just 17, the youngest player ever to play at the Crucible.
Brecel won the 2017 China Championship, his only previous ranking final, but he was not given the opportunity here to produce high-scoring breaks by his calm and collected opponent.
Having started the event ranked 40 in the world, Brecel leaps up to 18th place, and the £80,000 runners-up prize will provide some consolation.
Brecel said: “I had a game plan but it was not possible because he potted the first ball in every frame. He was unbeatable.
“He had a better run of the balls and I missed a few but he played unbelievably and deserves it.”
How the match unfolded
Zhao showed no sign of nerves when compiling breaks of 79 and 61, in between Brecel’s superb 133, as the first four frames were shared for 2-2.
Having lost the next two, Brecel took a seventh frame that could have been crucial, capitalising after Zhao missed a routine black off the spot.
But he hit back by taking the following frame to lead 5-3 after the first session.
Zhao started the final session in composed fashion with breaks of 87, 120 and 56 to stretch his lead to 8-4, and although Brecel made 81 to pull a frame back, Zhao took a tactical 14th frame and then sealed the win with 99.
‘There’s a new kid in town’ – analysis
Six-time world champion Steve Davis on BBC Two:
“If Zhao can use this as a springboard, he can really force his way into the game strongly.
“He’s got the credentials to be the first Chinese world champion. Everyone thought it might be Ding but who is to say Zhao won’t be the one to do it?
John Parrott, 1991 world champion:
“There’s a new kid in town! The fans have loved Zhao all week. He has such a lovely manner about him.
“He is brimming with talent and now he’s found out how to win, he’s going to be very dangerous and horrible to play against for anyone who draws him.”
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