When snooker star Ding Junhui won the China Open as an 18-year-old in 2005, many predicted that the face of the sport would change forever. Dozens of young players from across China would seek to emulate Ding, and the world rankings were sure to be dominated by Chinese players within a decade.
Ten years on, though, Ding remains the only Chinese mainland star to have made a serious impression on the sport, but another sub-par performance at the World Championships has capped a disappointing season.
In this year's recently concluded World Championships, 11 Chinese players took part in the qualifying draw, but only one, Zhang Anda, made it through to join Ding in the first round - where Zhang lost comprehensively. It was a similar scenario in 2014, and even worse the year before when Ding was China's sole representative - aside from the ageless Marco Fu from Hong Kong, who has flattered to deceive throughout a 17-year career.
The peak in terms of the World Championships came in 2012 when three other Chinese players joined Ding and Fu in the main draw, even though the five players could only manage a single win between them.
Last season, though, it appeared as though the long-expected Chinese breakthrough might finally arrive. Ding won a record-equaling five ranking tournaments, briefly ascending to the top spot in the world rankings. Around the same time, there were seven Chinese players in the world's top 50, and they all looked to be on the rise.
But just one year on, only four players (including both Ding and Fu) remain in the top 50 and Ding, whom the legendary Ronnie O'Sullivan once predicted would become a multiple world champion, is looking less and less likely to add the world crown to his resume, thanks to a growing crop of competitors at the top of the sport.
Miles Pearce, World Snooker's commercial director, recently claimed that viewing figures in China are still growing, but an analysis of the TV ratings for the top snooker events over the past few years, as provided by CSM Media Research, shows that fans are not quite as enamored with the sport as they once were.
Should Ding - or any of his countrymen - ever win the world title, that trend would turn dramatically upward, but with more sports than ever now on offer to sports fans across a range of platforms in China, cue sports here could soon find themselves snookered.
Original title by Global Times: Ding’s woes mirroring snooker’s slow decline in China