‘A star is born’ – Masters champion Yan Bingtao is likened to Steve Davis as he comes of age

Yan Bingtao
Yan Bingtao won his maiden ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters

As Yan Bingtao became the youngest Masters champion in 26 years, commentator John Virgo told BBC Two viewers: “A star is born.”

Yan became only the second Asian player ever to win one of snooker’s Triple Crown events as he beat John Higgins to win the Masters.

His 10-8 victory over Higgins – after being 5-3 and 7-5 down – saw him become the tournament’s youngest champion since Ronnie O’Sullivan won the title as a 19-year-old in 1995.

But how did Yan emerge? And why is he now viewed in China as being in the same bracket as tennis great Li Na and former NBA star Yao Ming?

BBC Sport looks at the 20-year-old’s rise to prominence and why comparisons are also being made with six-time world champion Steve Davis.

‘Yan always looked as if he had that bit extra’

Yan’s emergence has long been in the making. He was one of the first players to attend the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association’s (WPBSA) academy in Beijing when it opened in 2013.

And his potential was on show when winning the 2015 World Cup for China alongside Zhou Yuelong, with a victory over Scotland’s Higgins and Stephen Maguire in the final.

“When we opened our Chinese academy, Yan was one of the first students in there and it is great to see where all his hard work has got him today,” said WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson.

“Yan always looked like he was the one with that little bit extra to give. I’ve seen so few players go frame-for-frame with John Higgins over the years. His performance in the final was incredible.”

Ding Junhui, 33, is the only other player from China to enjoy success in the Triple Crown events, winning the UK Championship on three occasions and the Masters once.

Even with 19 Chinese players in the world’s top 100, prior to Sunday, only Liang Wenbo had emulated Ding in reaching a Triple Crown final.

“The Chinese market is around 30% of the whole world snooker tour these days, so it is a significant portion – and to have this talent coming through is of enormous value for us,” Ferguson added.

“Yan has always had what it takes and he’s got the staying power and ability to stick in there for the long haul.”

‘He reminds them of Davis’

Yan’s determination to prove himself saw him move away from his homeland at 16 to take up a place at Victoria’s Snooker Academy in Sheffield.

At that stage, he spoke no English and admitted that his arrival in the UK initially left him “totally lost and confused”external-link – but his agent Victoria Shi – who runs the Sheffield academy – says his focus, resolve and composure have always been evident.

“Everyone says he reminds them of Steve Davis because he is so calm and so determined even though he is only 20,” Shi told BBC Radio 5 Live.

“He was always chasing John Higgins but he always came back. He’s the most hard-working player at my academy. He showed how strong his mindset is, how much he wants to win, that’s the difference. I have never seen a kid like him.

“He is the most successful Chinese sportsman at the moment. Li Na won the Australian Open and French Open and Yao Ming played NBA basketball, but everyone longed for a good young sportsman to bring hope at this difficult time.

“Everyone watched it on the internet. He is the best sportsperson in China and at that age it’s special.”

What the greats think

Four-time winner Higgins and Davis talked up Yan’s credentials as a potential world champion in the aftermath of Sunday’s match.

And John Parrott, who won at the Crucible in 1991 added: “I knew Yan was good but not this good.

“I have seen him play lots of times. He’s really impressed me with his attitude and temperament. He looks very comfortable in the heat of battle.

“He doesn’t give off many bad vibes, he just keeps going about his business. His temperament for somebody of 20 and so little experience of a Triple Crown event is outstanding.”

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