Ding Junhui aims to end Ronnie O’Sullivan’s stranglehold on the UK Championship trophy when the two box office stars collide in the Last 16 in York on Thursday.
Reigning and back-to-back Betway UK Champion O’Sullivan has stretched his unbeaten run in this illustrious Triple Crown tournament to 17 matches by cantering into the Last 32 for the loss of just two frames.
O’Sullivan whitewashed Ross Bulman and Tian Pengfei before overcoming Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham 6-2, but wil be braced for a much tougher assignment against Asia’s greatest snooker export.
The decorated duo have racked up 49 ranking titles between them, with O’Sullivan in pursuit of his 37th which would see him become the outright most successful player in the sport’s history, ahead of Stephen Hendry.
Ding created history of his own in this event back in 2005 when he became the first Asian player to lift the UK Championship trophy, and the Chinese superstar repeated the feat four years later to become one of only nine multiple winners.
Ding, however, has endured a torrid season by his standards which has seen him slip to 16th in the world rankings, having suffered First Round exits in three of his five ranking event appearances prior to his trip to York.
His last ranking title came on home soil at the 2017 World Open in China, and the 32-year-old knows he must be at the top of his game if he is to bring down ‘The Rocket’ and bolster his chances of ending his major title drought.
Ding defeated Duane Jones and Michael Georgiou 6-2 in the early rounds before fending off a valiant Ali Carter fightback to complete a 6-4 victory in the Last 32.
O’Sullivan and Ding, sporting icons in their respective homelands, have met 20 times previously, with O’Sullivan winning 13 matches to Ding’s four, plus three draws.
O’Sullivan has won their last three encounters, including a 6-3 success in the Semi-Finals of this year’s Masters, since Ding pulled off an epic 13-10 triumph in the Quarter-Finals of the 2017 World Championship.
Their latest show-down gets underway from 1pm GMT and will be contested over the best of 11 frames, with Liang Wenbo, the 2015 runner-up, awaiting the winner in Friday’s Quarter-Finals.