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Ding tolls bell of change on the world snooker scene.

When i was a youngster a geological era or two ago Oriental gents came in three varieties (our world view was shaped by derring-do tales of the less cerebral kind): inscrutable, fiendish or both.

Actually, when you think about it they were all of the both persuasion - Charlie Chan inscrutable and fiendishly good at confounding villains; Fu Manchu inscrutable and fiendishly persistent in wickedness; and many another less famous.

Now along comes an Oriental gent - in the flesh rather than the child of the imagination of Earl Derr Biggers or Sax Rohmer - whose inscrutability and fiendishness are of levels undreamed of by any product of any pen.

Via the China Open and British Eurosport's coverage of same here to prove our world view not so absurd came Ding Junhui, a snooker player not exactly unknown but now making a breakthrough to put the globe's finest on red alert.

Apart from Ronnie O'Sullivan - a large apart, true - the cream of planetary talent was competing. And the main reaction of said cream may well have been relief that the 18-year-old has not qualified for the approaching world championship.

This young man's features displayed less in the way of emotion than one of those stone chappies on Easter Island as he made chop suey of a couple of former world champions in Peter Ebdon (beaten 5-0) and Ken Doherty (6-0).

This inscrutability was accompanied by a fiendish gift for unpicking some tricky positions to open the way for potting which at times was enough to recall the excitement generated by Perrie Mans or the young Jimmy White.

While many have recognised Ding as a coming man his presence in the final against Stephen Hendry was not widely forecast. Hendry's not overly scrutable himself: he wears a look of vague sadness come rain or shine.

He was well and truly outinscrutabled here, though. His expression never altered, but all the same he seemed to be registering emotional tsunamis compared with Ding. And Ding's fiendishness was as fiendish as ever.

When Hendry led 4-1 many a sage doubtless muttered, 'Ah, so - Confucius say young man aiming for stars must beware banging head on tree' or similar. Not a bit of it, though: Ding allowed the great man only one more frame.

The most perplexing element was still to emerge, though: as a wild-card entry Ding didn't qualify for the I30,000 winnings, though nobody explained why. Sounds daft. Not that Ding should fret: there'll be plenty more.

If Ding put the wind up the snooker elite Kim Clijsters did much the same to the crachach of the women's tennis circuit by following her victory at Indian Wells with another in Miami (British Eurosport again).

Not bad for someone who missed all but a year with injury. The Belgian beat a teenager who's done even more amazing things than Ding: Maria Sharapova. She had to work for it: anyone doubting Sharapova's will to win should have been watching.

Those loons who suggested recently that Sharapova was a burn-out case had already been given cause to eat their words and like them when the US-based Russian overcame another Belgian comeback artist, Justine Henin-Hardenne.

With her back against the wall against Clijsters, Sharapova showed a champion's resolve by fighting back with every ounce of energy and daring. Clijsters won 6-3, 7-5 in a terrific match in which marks for skill and spirit were equally distributed.

Another youngster - in Formula One racing 23 is practically pre-pubescent - continued to puzzle followers of Grand Prix fortunes still assuming Michael Schumacher's absence from No 1 spots is down to printing errors.

Be assured, gentlefolk, that Fernando Alonso's victory for Renault in Bahrain (ITV1) was no reportage blooper. This was his second win on the trot, though on the trot would be a perverse description of a fellow this fast.

The new Ferrari let Schumacher down, and didn't do a lot for Rubens Barrichello (though at least he finished). Big attraction: Pedro de la Rosa and his efforts to go the pretty way. Despite his off-track wanderings, he still came fifth.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Apr 9, 2005
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