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'It's a Long Way to the Top' for Snooker Wunderkind
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Four years ago, the then 15-year-old snooker sensation Ding Junhui said he had his eyes on a chance to compete in England after winning gold and silver medals at the Busan Asian Games.

On Tuesday, the cue king said he would try his utmost to defend the UK championship and thus become the youngest ever World No 1 after winning the men's doubles gold at the Doha Asian Games on Tuesday.

"Though it was a final, I did not feel any pressure. It was just any other match," said Ding, who paired with fellow Tian Pengfei to demolish Marco Fu Ka Chun and Chan Wai Ki of Hong Kong, China by 3-1 (64-66, 102-2, 72-37, 126-7).

"Compared to four years ago, I have improved a lot. And I am also mentally stronger and have higher goals to achieve," he said.

Over the past four years, the Chinese "wunderkind" has won three world titles - the China Open, UK championships and Northern Ireland Open becoming the second player in history after Ronnie O'Sullivan to win this triple-crown before the age of 20.

With the UK championship approaching, the world No 4 said he did not know who he would meet but was fully focused on defending his title.

"For me, the Asian Games and the UK are the same. Both are very important to me," he said.

In order to allow Ding to compete in both tournaments, the organizing committee of Asian Games changed the snooker schedule since it clashed with the UK championship.

The snooker competition will end today, instead of December 11, allowing Ding to defend his UK Championship title from December 9. A second crown in the UK event would move the prodigy close to the No 1 ranking.

"I do not have enough time to prepare for UK after Asian Games. But I think the competitions here are the best way to keep form and gear up," said Ding, who is defending his singles snooker title and competing for a Chinese team victory.

As a defending champion, Ding may have first round bye but pressure is still high due to the star-studded line-up looking to delay the Asian upstart's rise to glory.

"The UK is one of the most significant events to win, which is very important to my career. But almost all of the top snooker will take part in the tournament. I will play my games and try not to be distracted by outside pressure. Being world No 1 is always my dream and I will fight for it."

(China Daily December 7, 2006)

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