Zhao Xintong claims fairy-tale first Triple Crown title at the UK Championship
Zhao Xintong secured his first Triple Crown title at the 2021 UK Championship with a memorable 10-5 victory over Luca Brecel in the final.
The 24-year-old, appearing in his first major final, etched his name into the sport’s history books as he became only the fourth non-British winner of the event.
The victory also sees Zhao surge to ninth in the world rankings and secure a debut spot in The Masters at Alexandra Palace next month.
Zhao had opened up a 5-3 lead following the first session and took the opening two frames of the evening to move further clear.
Brecel failed to clinch back-to-back frames throughout the final as Zhao pressed home his advantage to wrap up the £200,000 top prize at the York Barbican.
“I am just so happy,” Zhao told BBC Sport. “It was an exciting night tonight and I love York.
“It was the biggest match for me and it was my first time in a final, so I tried my best because it was Luca. I feel very, very happy now. I am very excited.
“The UK Championship is a snooker theatre of dreams.”
Zhao, who had defeated the likes of John Higgins, Jack Lisowski and Barry Hawkins en route to the final, came out firing with a break of 79 to take the opening frame.
Brecel, however, responded superbly with a clearance of 133 to level up, and after Zhao had added a break of 61, the Belgian restored parity again at the mid-session interval.
Zhao then claimed three of the next four frames with a top break of 78 to move two ahead at the halfway stage.
The players returned in the evening in front of a raucous, sell-out crowd at The Barbican and it was Zhao who hit the ground running with consecutive breaks of 87 and 120 to make it 7-3.
A break of 64 saw Brecel stop the rot, but he failed to make further inroads as Zhao made a 56 break to edge closer to the winning line.
Brecel rallied again with a break of 81 to trail 8-5, but only for ‘The Cyclone’ to respond again by winning the 14th frame to put his opponent to the point of no return.
Zhao showed maturity beyond his years as he killed off the match in style with a break of 99, following in the footsteps of Ding Junhui and Yan Bingtao to become only the third Chinese player to win a Triple Crown title.
Brecel fell short of his second major title, and admitted: “I had a game plan but it was not possible because he potted the first ball in every frame. He was unbeatable.
“He had a better run of the balls and I missed a few but he played unbelievably and deserves it.”
The Belgian’s run to the final sees him climb to 18th in the world rankings, having endured a recent slump in form which had seen him drop to 40th.
Zhao will now face Higgins in the opening round of The Masters next month in a repeat of their encounter in York earlier this week.
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