Ding Junhui won a Crucible thriller and wants to follow in the footsteps of Sheffield United as he bids for a maiden World Championship title, writes Will Jennings.
The Sheffield-based star overcame Mark King 10-9 in a pulsating first round duel, leading 9-7 before being pegged back and finally booking his place in the last 16 in a nerve-jangling decider.
The world No.11 is a Blades fan away from the table and wants to channel the spirit of Chris Wilder’s side as he aims to break his World Championship duck.
“I keep an eye on Sheffield United and they’re very good - they keep the same team and all the players are the same,” the 33-year-old said.
“They don’t change much, maybe with one or two different, but the team is so good.
“It was a tough first round - Mark played quite well, and I’ve been away for five months and I just wanted to play some matches and win.
“It’s good to see my form isn’t coming down too much and I’m playing well - I’m feeling good, hitting the balls nicely and am feeling more confident.
“I’m happy with my performance and in the decider I was more confident - I needed another frame but I never feared anything.”
The World Championship is one of the few gongs events 14-time ranking event winner Ding has never scooped, having stormed to a hat-trick of UK Championships as well as Masters glory back in 2011.
He came out of the blocks with alacrity in Sheffield as he made a first frame 104 but was pegged back by King on Friday, going into Saturday’s second session leading 5-4 after a ninth frame 98.
And he and the world No.46 played out a thrilling duel under the storied Crucible lights, as Ding made two more centuries to lead 9-7 before King teed up a decider with a brilliant fightback.
But the reigning UK Championship winner held his nerve in his first competitive game since February to book his place in the last 16.
There he may meet five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan - who plays Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the first round - and Ding, who beat the Rocket 6-4 on his way to UK Championship glory, reckons he and O’Sullivan enjoy a healthy relationship both on and off the table.
“Ronnie’s tried to help me at times and wants me to win - and everyone back home in China wants me to play Ronnie,” he added.
“We haven’t met many times but every time he sees me I can feel how much he wants me to win.”
Live snooker returns to Eurosport and the Eurosport app. Watch the World Championship from 31st July – 16th August with analysis from Jimmy White.