YAN BINGTAO won snooker’s Generation Game as the Chinese Tiger mauled veteran John Higgins in a late Masters final.
They were dancing in the streets of the Shandong province as the 20-year-old rising star banked £250,000 with a stunning 10-8 victory in Milton Keynes.
Yan the Man is the youngest winner of this event since a teenage Ronnie O’Sullivan 26 years ago and empathically underlined his position as the next star of this sport.
In a lovely touch, his live-in girlfriend Ada Zhang was smuggled into the Marshall Arena venue after the mid-session interval without his knowledge last night and celebrated the tournament triumph by his side.
Higgins, 45, who is old enough to be Bingtao’s dad at 25 years the senior, was unable to end a ten-year drought for a Triple Crown event.
Bingtao said: “I am very excited. I have imagined how I would celebrate this moment but I am very calm.
“Even though in the last few frames, I didn’t play well, I didn’t give up.”
Higgins, who banks £115,000, added: “He was fantastic, he has such an incredible all-round game. I had my chances. I am sick. I am gutted.
“But a brilliant achievement for such a young man. He is the same age as my boy. Good luck to him.
“He could be a definite world champion. China is very lucky to have him as a player.”
The Wizard from Wishaw will be punching the steering wheel in frustration all the way up the M1 and M6 after letting this opportunity slip through his grasp.
As was evident in the opening frames of the afternoon session, the Sheffield-based Bingtao has true Balls of Steel.
Clearly he is not someone who is afraid to have a go at long, seemingly impossible pots and take on his opponent in key matches.
The fearless youngster demonstrated by beating seasoned pros Neil Robertson, Stephen Maguire and Stuart Bingham all in last-frame deciders that he is not worried about reputation.
And he disproved the strange semi-final assessment by King of Crucible Stephen Hendry that this did not count as a proper debut because it had been moved away from the boisterous Ally Pally due to the strict nationwide lockdown.
Hendry’s claimed there should be an asterisk beside his name after becoming the youngest finalist of the Masters since compatriot Ding Junhui 14 years ago.
But while this is clearly not a traditional Masters in its 47-year history, those comments were rather unfair and slightly disrespectful.
Bingtao’s opening break of 66 showed he would be competitive and there were no signs of early nerves.
But the masterful John Higgins, who banks a £15,000 bonus for the highest tournament break, proved why experience counts so often in this sport.
His breaks of 63, 98 and 52 enabled him to lead 5-3 heading into the evening session.
In the ninth frame, arguably the best of this year’s Masters, Higgins missed a frame-ball black at 67-0 up, and then Bingtao miraculously responded by forcing a re-spot.
In incredible, almost ridiculous scenes, No 12 seed Bingtao sunk the solitary black to close the gap to 5-4.
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In the 10th frame, Higgins missed a yellow and was punished for opening up the reds as Bingtao drew level at 5-5.
Higgins won the 11th frame, coming from 51-0 down with a break of 74, and then the 12th with a 116, the first century of the final.
Bingtao, the 50-1 outsider, levelled up at 7-7 with a superb 103 and then cleaned up the blue, pink and black to move 8-7 in front, the first time he had been ahead since the third frame.
It was a tremendous bounce from the Tiger and after more than six hours of play, successive breaks of 70 and 64 enabled him to lift the Paul Hunter Trophy in an empty room.