UK Championship 2019: Ding Junhui beats Stephen Maguire to win title
China's Ding Junhui won his third UK Championship by dispatching Scotland's Stephen Maguire 10-6 in an absorbing final featuring seven century breaks.
Ding, 32, had not won a ranking event since 2017 and last lifted the UK trophy a decade ago - four years after his first triumph as a teenager.
Back-to-back centuries secured a 5-3 first-session lead and he sealed victory with successive tons.
Maguire made three tons in four frames, but his poor start proved costly.
Ding, who won the first four frames in a confident start, becomes only the fifth player to win the UK title on three or more occasions.
He joins snooker greats Ronnie O'Sullivan (7), Steve Davis (6), Stephen Hendry (5) and John Higgins (3) on an elite list and collected a tournament record £200,000 in prize money.
"This is very special," Ding told BBC Sport. "It has been two years and I have done nothing but I have played very well this week.
"I worried about not doing well and asked myself 'can I win again?'
"But this week I played so well and when I beat Ronnie on the way to the final I started to believe I could lift the trophy again.
"My family give me full support and take the pressure off. I want to do my best for my daughter so that when she grows up she has the best daddy."
Ding back to his best
Ding has consistently been his country's best player since winning his first ranking title aged 18 at his home China Open event in 2005, before ascending to become the number one player in the world in 2014.
China has since seen numerous players break through into the top 32 but none has come close to matching Ding's achievements - Yan Bingtao, 19, is the latest rising star but he was easily beaten by Ding in the semi-finals.
The Sheffield-based player has admitted feeling the burden of pressure from the huge audiences in his homeland and has struggled with confidence and commitment issues over the last couple of years - becoming a father for the first time in August 2018 may well have played a part in his turnaround.
His last silverware came at the 2017 World Open and he remains one of the sport's best players never to have won the world title.
Ding's fragile mental strength has often been called into question, his record in majors not matching his undoubted talent as this was just his fourth success at a Triple Crown event, and first since winning the 2011 Masters.
He has suffered three first-round defeats this season but was back to his devastating best with impeccable cueball control, notching 10 centuries during the tournament, including four in the final.
His place in the top 16 was under threat at the start of the tournament, but the run to the title allowed him to leap seven places to ninth in the world and drew him alongside world number one Judd Trump on 14 ranking events.
Missed opportunity for Maguire
Glasgow's Maguire, 38, won the title 15 years ago and has arguably underachieved in his career, winning just five ranking titles in his career, the last of them at the 2013 Welsh Open.
He has, though, been in decent form this season, winning the World Cup team event in June alongside Higgins and beating his countryman in the Six-red World Championship in September.
His fiery temperament has often let him down but it has been kept well in check this year, and he produced a sensational 6-0 thrashing of Northern Ireland's Mark Allen in the last four in York, saying afterwards he "can't remember ever playing like that".
At times in the tournament he was visibly struggling with the fractured foot he suffered in China in October and, against Ding, his high-scoring run came too late as Ding proved too good.
"Every time you let him in he scores 100," said Maguire. "I told him a couple of frames ago 'it's not darts we're playing, it's snooker'.
"I thought if I get in I could maybe do it but it's tough when his safety is good as well. I've had a great week. The Barbican has been great, York's been great, the crowd were unreal and I've competed with the best."
How the final unfolded
Ding, who beat defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan in the last 16, snatched a 30-minute opening frame and fired in further breaks of 56, 105 and 128 for a 4-0 lead.
Maguire hit back after the mid-session interval by taking another frame that lasted over half an hour and counter-attacked with an important 67 break after Ding broke down on 49.
The Glaswegian took the next as well to trail by a single frame and had the chance to square the contest at 4-4 but missed a blue to the middle, allowing Ding to make 66 to lead by two frames.
The standard of snooker rose in the evening session. Ding opened with 83 and Maguire missed a red on 53 allowing his opponent to pinch the next for a 7-3 lead, but Maguire hit back by fluking a red and stroking in 103.
Ding made 67 to close in on victory, but Maguire compiled another 103 and then an even better 124 to stay in the contest.
However, Ding's nerveless 131 clearance in the 15th frame and 103 to win the match - the fifth century in the last six frames - secured victory to a standing ovation.
'Ding a match for anybody' - analysis
Seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry told BBC Sport: "This is almost like a second part of Ding's career. I didn't know if we'd see him winning major titles again. He didn't look happy at the table and didn't seem to be enjoying the pressure but his performance today was incredible."
Six-time world champion Steve Davis: "A lot of people had written Ding off for the World Championship but that has been blown right open now.
"I think Ding on his best form is a match for anybody in the world. He's a headache for the other top players."
Ding career highlights
|April 2005 - Beats Stephen Hendry 9-5 to win his first ranking title at the China Open - two days after his 18th birthday|
|Dec 2005 - Wins UK Championship for first time with 10-5 win over Steve Davis|
|Jan 2007 - Breaks down in tears after 10-3 defeat by Ronnie O'Sullivan in Masters final|
|Dec 2009 - Secures second UK Championship title with 10-8 victory over John Higgins|
|Jan 2011 - Lifts third Triple Crown title by beating Marco Fu 10-4 in the final of the Masters|
|Feb 2014 - Claims fifth ranking title of the season when he beats Judd Trump 9-5 in German Masters final|
|Dec 2014 - Becomes first Asian player to become world number one|
|May 2016 - Reaches first World Championship final but loses 18-14 to Mark Selby|
|Sept 2017 - Clinches World Open with 10-3 win over Kyren Wilson - his last ranking title before a barren spell|
|Dec 2019 - Wins third UK Championship and 14th ranking title with 10-6 triumph over Stephen Maguire|
Ding Junhui 10-6 Stephen Maguire
First session: 95-38, 62-23 (56), 105-16 (105), 128-12 (128), 25-93, 49-77 (67), 12-76, 67-28 (66)
Second session: 83-5 (83), 73-53 (Maguire 53), 0-104 (103), 71-27 (67), 1-104 (103), 0-124 (124), 131-0 (131), 103-8 (103)
The seven centuries the players shared in the final ensured a new UK Championship record with 139 scored in total throughout this year's tournament.
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