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UK Championship: Ding Junhui overcomes illness to sink defending champion Mark Allen

Ding Junhui clambered off his sickbed to sink defending champion Mark Allen in a final frame decider in a dramatic opening match of this year’s UK Championship in York.

The former three-time winner revealed he was on the verge of pulling out of the tournament on Saturday morning after waking with a soaring temperature and spells of dizziness.

But Ding somehow steadied himself to haul back a 4-2 deficit then summon a nerveless 102 clearance to chisel a 6-5 victory in a first-round repeat of last year’s final, in which the Chinese player blew a sizeable lead to lose 10-7.

“In the morning I thought about pulling out because I couldn’t get out of bed,” said Ding. “My alarm was calling me to wake up but I couldn’t.

“My temperature was up to 39 and I couldn’t walk straight, I couldn’t walk over (to the venue). But I think I wanted to play because I am here for the tournament, so I will just try to play well.”

It was another remarkable chapter in Ding’s relationship with the sport’s second biggest tournament, which began when he came from nowhere to reel off a string of big wins and become the first overseas winner of the Championship in 2005.

A dramatic match had been slow to catch fire, with both players making mistakes as they shared the first four frames prior to the mid-session interval.

Allen was first to step up his game when he seized on a second chance in the fifth frame with a clearance to black of 106, and he extended his advantage to two after a messy sixth in which both players spurned golden chances.

But just when Ding was beginning to look down and out he drew on all his UK experience to reel off three counter-attacking frames in a row to move within one of an unlikely victory.

The Chinese player was first to show some nerves, a missed black off the spot gifting Allen the chance to pull level, which the Antrim man duly took with a decisive break of 70.

Allen had the first chance in the decider but missed an easy red to the middle and Ding held his illness at bay long enough to summon his first century of the match and seal his place in the last 16 – much to Allen’s surprise.

“It’s definitely one that got away, and not just because of the red in the last frame,” said Allen.

“I felt like I did all the hard stuff well today, and I honestly felt like I did all right. I felt in control of the match completely, and I think if Ding is honest in his assessment he’ll wonder how he won it.

“It’s a hard one to take because I’ve just lost in the UK Championships but I’ve played a lot worse. Maybe this is one that I’ll watch back to see what happened, because I felt in control at all times until I lost.”

Mark Williams admitted he never got out of second gear but still did enough to see off Fan Zhengyi 6-4 and join Ding in the last 16.

The Welshman, whose best break was an 86 to nudge over the line, is a two-time UK champion and keen to avoid the mishaps which hampered his chances of making it a trio of successes in recent years.

“This tournament hasn’t really been good for me in the last few years,” admitted Williams. “Once during Covid I fell asleep live on TV, then last year I had to run out every couple of frames.

“But I’ll go home in between matches this time and try to change the jinx of the UK. The reception was unbelievable, the conditions were perfect – everything was perfect except my play. I was struggling a bit, but I loved it.”

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