Snooker

O'Sullivan and Hendry predict rapid rise for Xintong

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Zhao Xintong

Image credit: Reuters

ByEurosport UK
04/05/2020 at 07:45 | Updated 04/05/2020 at 09:47

Ronnie O'Sullivan has tipped Zhao Xintong to become a leading player in world snooker, predicting a rapid rise up the rankings for the world number 30 once he properly "learns the game".

Xintong is yet to make it beyond the final of a ranking tournament, with his best finish to date being the last four at the 2018 China Championship.

The 23-year-old has reached only one quarter-final this season, something O'Sullivan attributes to a naivety in the way he handles the tactical side of the game, but believes that the man from Xi'an's enormous potential will soon see him surpass more established rivals.

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O'Sullivan previously said in 2016 that Xintong reminded him of a young Stephen Hendry in the quality of his attacking play, shortly before he reached his first tournament last-16 at that year's German Masters where he enjoyed a shock win against John Higgins.

Speaking to Hendry on Instagram Live, O'Sllivan said: "I rate that Xintong better than all of them. He’s unbelievably talented but he just don’t know the game.

"I spent a bit of time on the practice table, he’s clearing the colours up, pots the brown and he’s not even near the blue, he’s near the cushion. I said, “that’s not acceptable mate, you should be getting whips.” I tried to explain to him to try and get near to the ball. Just better positional play. He’s a quick learner, and he got it, it’s just little things like that he needs to improve."

"He was playing a safety shot and instead of leaving the white tight on the cushion, he was allowing the guy to get on the bottom of the white. Unless you know that part of the game and respect that part of the game, however well you pot, you’re never going to be winning titles regularly. But I rate him. Very, very good."

Hendry agreed that Xintong is the outstanding prospect hailing from China this season, and recalled that Alan McManus labelled him as a future world champion. "There was a tournament I did, I tipped [Yan] Bingtao to beat him and McManus was in studio and said no, no, Xintong is a future world champion," said Hendry. "He’s a talented boy."

"Bingtao I don’t know what to make of him," said Hendry. "I don’t know whether he’s attacking, defending, he’s turned into a bit of a plodder. He’ll win lots of matches though. Lots, and lots and lots. I just can’t work him out as a player, I don’t know what he is.

"Every so often he’ll go for something mental, then he’ll refuse something and you think, “why’s he done that?” It’s like he still doesn’t know the shots."

Bingtao is currently ranked number 16 in the world, and became the youngest-ever ranking tournament finalist when he finished runner-up at the Northern Ireland Open in 2017 aged only 17.

He won his first ranking title at the Riga Masters in Latvia in 2019, making him only the third Chinese player to do so and the first since Ding Junhui in 2006.

Yet despite this, O'SUllivan agreed with Hendry that the 20-year-old may have already reached the peak of his career in professional snooker.

"Bingtao, I think, is a bit limited. He don’t know what he is. He’s got a very good temperament. He’s a percentage player, he ain’t going to set the world on fire. Not a fan of him, really."

The current highest-ranked player from China is Junhui, whose victory at the UK Championship earlier this season moved him to number 10 in the world standings. He briefly topped the rankings between December 2014 - January 2015.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Sheffield and is a patron of Sheffield United, beat Ding beat Stephen Maguire 10–6 in York to claim his third UK title last year.

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