Zhao Xintong completed a 10-5 win over Luca Brecel to claim the UK Championship crown in York. The manner of his win over Brecel suggested many more major titles could flow his way.
Zhao’s victory means China currently holds two of the three ‘triple crown’ titles, after Yan Bingtao’s Masters triumph earlier this year – and hinted at a seismic shift in the sport’s balance of power. Zhao and Brecel had ripped up the established order in their respective semi-finals, Brecel beating Kyren Wilson, while Zhao defeated Barry Hawkins.
Zhao, world-ranked 26 and never previously beyond the quarter-finals of a ranking event, marked his major final debut with an effortless break of 79. Brecel responded immediately with a 133.
Zhao nudged back in front with a 61 but Brecel took advantage with knocks of 33 and 47 to restore parity for a second time. The Chinese player capitalised on Brecel’s failure to make the most of his chances as he moved 4-2 ahead, and looked a strong bet to seize control of the final as he neared another half-century with the balls at his mercy in the next.
But a simple missed black let in Brecel to ultimately reduce the deficit again, before Zhao rounded off the afternoon session with a fine break of 78 to move five from the title at 5-3.
Just as he had at the start of the opening session, Zhao pounced following a Brecel break-off to polish off a break of 87. A subsequent 120 – after Brecel had the first chance and missed a simple pink – suggested there was no way back for the Belgian. Zhaolooked in again in the 11th frame but missed a pink to the middle on 27, and Brecel, under immense pressure, secured the frame with a coolly taken 64 to give himself a glimmer of hope at 7-4.
Brecel failed to punish Zhao for breaking down on 56 in the next as he moved within two frames of victory, but the Belgian clawed back the deficit with a well-taken 81 in the next after Zhao missed a simple red.
Nerves were clearly beginning to fray for the young Chinese player but he edged one frame from victory after benefitting from a tortuous snooker behind the yellow, then wrapped up his title in style with a match-winning break of 99.