The Chinese Revolution in Snooker Continues to Gather Pace

Whatever occurs at the World Snooker Championships, the 2021/22 season has been another year to remember for the Chinese professionals on tour.

As Zhao Xintong lifted the trophy at the UK Championship in December, it was confirmed that the next generation of Chinese talent was ready to create waves in the sport.

Zhao and Yan Bingtao were considered amongst the favorites for the world title in the betting on snooker at Betfair, and while the former was dumped out early on by the wily Stephen Maguire, the latter has progressed to the quarter-finals and is a 22/1 chance after a slow start against Mark Williams in the last eight.

It’s perhaps a surprise that only one Chinese player made it to the business end of the tournament, with most snooker predictions tipping two, three or more of Yan’s countrymen to progress past the opening rounds.

While the ‘Class of ‘92’ – namely Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Williams – continue to produce stellar performances, it hasn’t gone unnoticed that as many as eight of the top 40 players in the world rankings are from China. And that number will surely only increase in years to come.

So is snooker likely to experience a Chinese revolution? And why are players from China proving so impressive right now?

Aiming High

The German Masters in January was another watershed moment for world snooker – Zhao taking on Yan in the final, and winning rather handsomely into the bargain.

It was less than a decade ago that the first all-Chinese ranking event final was contested by Ding Junhui and Xiao Guodong, but it would be fair to say that most expect Zhao and Yan – aged 25 and 22 respectively – to contest many more in the years to come.

For Zhao, a chance to work with a mentor has arisen in 2022… and not just any old club potter. O’Sullivan, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, has described the 25-year-old as “the special one”, and said: “I’ve helped him a bit, he’s just got a few things that he needs to learn. Not even learn – he picked it up within an hour. Took me about two years to learn it.”

As for Yan, he has already shown tremendous resolve in claiming his first major crown – The Masters – back in 2021. He twice went two frames behind Higgins in the Alexandra Palace showpiece, but Bingtao showed maturity beyond his years to overturn the deficit and clinch the biggest title of his young career to date.

That dazzling duo has company from their countrymen in the upper echelons of snooker. Zhou Yuelong, up to 25 in the world rankings, has reached the final of the European Masters, the semi-finals of the UK Championship and the last eight of prestigious events like the British Open. Aged just 24, his career trajectory is likely to be up and up from here.

And can we really write off Ding as well? In a sport where the best in the game are still competing well into their forties, the 35-year-old has slipped down the rankings in recent years but is still blessed with a tremendous all-round game.

Perhaps the advancement of his young Chinese peers will spur him on as snooker embraces an exciting new generation of talent.