Yan Bingtao reckons swapping Shandong for Sheffield moulded him into the youngest Masters champion since a teenage Ronnie O’Sullivan, writes Will Jennings.
The Chinese Tiger, 20, toppled four-time world champion John Higgins 10-8 in a Sunday night epic in Milton Keynes.
It’s been 26 years since the Rocket first ascended the Masters throne and Yan, the world No.11, looks to be rapidly following in his footsteps after a performance for the ages at the Marshall Arena.
Yan, 25 years Higgins’ junior, beat Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and defending champion Stuart Bingham on his way to the final and says his maiden Triple Crown triumph capped a true snooker fairytale.
The 2019 Riga Masters champion, who banked a life-changing £250,000 in beating the Scot, said: “I’m very, very excited at the moment.
“I have imagined how I would celebrate it at this moment, but at the moment I’m very calm. Even though in the last few frames I was not playing well, I didn’t give up.
“My first memory about snooker is when I was seven or eight years old, I watched it on TV. I remember it was the World Championship. I literally stayed up all night to watch the match.
“I never thought I could be a snooker player. I played Chinese pool first, and I never thought I would be a professional snooker player.
“At that time, when I was young, I also went to school and I only took this as a hobby and what I could do at a weekend or on a night after class. I never thought I would be a professional before.
“I was totally lost and confused when I first came here [to the UK]. I didn’t feel like I was involved in this game, and I didn’t even know where the toilets were in every venue!
“That’s the biggest memory for me – I never found the toilets in the venue. Now I’m feeling like I’m getting more used to it and more involved like a professional snooker player.”
Yan and Higgins, 45, played out a late night thriller in what marked snooker’s true generation game.
The two-time Masters champion opened up a 5-3 lead at the end of the afternoon session but gutsy Yan would not give in as the pair went late into the evening.
Roared on by girlfriend Ada Zhang, the Asian ace struck breaks of 59, 76 and 103 to level at seven frames apiece before edging in front in the 15th.
The Scot restored parity at 8-8 but Yan, playing in just his fourth career final to Higgins’ 84, showed experience beyond his years to edge over the line and lift the coveted Paul Hunter Trophy.
Yan’s girlfriend Ada was smuggled into the behind closed doors venue at the mid-session interval without the Sheffield potter’s knowledge.
Ada watched Yan lose to world No.1 Judd Trump in last year’s Players Championship final and the 20-year-old added: “I’m so happy she’s here with me.
“Last year when I played another final in Southport, I also asked her to come and support me on the final just in case I won.
“But this year, when I was 5-3 down I talked to her on the phone and said: ‘I’m probably going to disappoint you again this time’. And she said: ‘no matter what the result is, I’m going to take you home tonight’.”
Higgins, ranked five places above Yan in the world, had nothing but praise for his opponent and is tipping the young star for greatness.
The 30-time ranking event winner said: “Every credit to him – he played superb.
“He’s such a tough competitor to play against, for someone so young. He’s got everything and is a worthy winner.
“He could definitely be a world champion – without a shadow of a doubt. China’s very lucky to have Yan as a player.”
The London Masters was live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from Jan 10