Ding concerned about prospect of fans return

·2-min read
Ding Junhui is a three-time UK Championship winner, having lifted the trophy in 2005, 2009 and 2019
Ding Junhui is a three-time UK Championship winner, having lifted the trophy in 2005, 2009 and 2019

Defending champion Ding Junhui claimed it is too early to think about re-admitting fans to snooker matches, after breezing into the second round of the UK Championship.

The 33-year-old – who claimed the 14th ranking event title of his career at the Barbican Centre in York in 2019 – made light work of his opening clash at the Marshall Arena, prevailing against amateur Jamie Curtis-Barrett 6-1.

But having booked his spot in Round 2, Ding addressed his concerns about the news that fans could be allowed to attend the event in Milton Keynes from December 2, with the Buckinghamshire town being placed in tier two of regions in England.

Ding said the indoor nature of snooker makes him uncomfortable with the idea of playing in front of spectators, while he believes the distraction could also impact his performance at the baize.

“I wouldn’t want to see fans back at the minute – it’s too risky,” the world No.10 said.

“We’re in a room inside – it’s not like a football ground that’s outside. There’s a much higher chance of catching the virus in indoor arenas than outside in a stadium.

“Everyone’s looking forward to the return of crowds, but the first priority should be to keep the players safe. If players don’t feel safe you can’t put them in danger, it’s not worth the risk.

“If I got to the quarter-finals or semi-finals and there were crowds, I couldn’t pull out, I’d have to go for it. But I think it would affect my concentration, if people are coughing around me.”

Back on the table, Ding insisted he has plenty of room for improvement despite his comfortable victory against Curtis-Barrett that set up a Round 2 contest against recent Northern Ireland Open semi-finalist David Grace.

Ding raced into a 3-0 lead before being pegged back by his 36-year-old opponent ahead of the mid-session interval, but successfully notched three successive frames with a ton in tow to see the contest out.

He added: “It wasn’t good enough. I’m going to have to play a lot better in my next game, because there are a lot of good players who can do well in the best-of-11-frames format.

“I couldn’t get much spin on the table. The cushions seemed cold and I kept getting out of position. It took me a while to adapt and I found it tough out there.

“I don’t know what to expect against David. I’ll just focus on my own game and if I play like I know I can, that should be good enough.”

Watch the UK Championship LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport app. Follow all the latest tournament news on Eurosport.co.uk