LONDON • Chinese teenager Zhao Xintong is as talented as the great Ronnie O'Sullivan was at a similar age and will one day become the No. 1 player in snooker, according to 2013 World Championship runner-up Barry Hawkins.
Zhao made everyone in the sport sit up and take notice when he made an outstanding clearance of 130 in the first frame of his English Open second-round clash with O'Sullivan in Manchester earlier this month.
The 19-year-old, who turned professional only this year, went on to take the five-time world champion all the way to a final-frame decider and was unlucky to go down 3-4 to the Englishman.
"Zhao stands out among the Chinese talent that's around in the game," world No. 14 Hawkins said of his fellow left-hander.
"He's very attacking, goes for a lot of shots, which is probably his downfall at the moment, but I'm sure in time, the tactical side will come through and he'll learn that side of things too.
"He's a future world champion and, because the two near enough go hand in hand, a future world No. 1 as well. There's an air of super confidence about him.
"Ronnie also had that when he first came on the scene at 17, 18. Zhao hasn't won the same amount of tournaments he won but is the nearest thing I've seen to Ronnie at the same age."
Chinese players have excelled in recent weeks, with Ding Junhui winning the Shanghai Masters and reaching the final of the International Championship while Liang Wenbo won the English Open.
Last year, Ding became the first Asian to reach the world final before he was beaten 18-14 by England's Mark Selby.
Hawkins, who lost 18-12 in the world final at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield three years ago when O'Sullivan took the crown for the fifth time, believes it is Zhao's buccaneering style that makes him stand out.
"He's got something extra about him, there's a swagger about him when he's at the table," said the 37-year-old Englishman. "He's fearless. He's probably a little too fearless at the moment because any pot he sees, he goes for.
"Once he learns the tactical side a bit more, he'll be a handful for everybody."
O'Sullivan was equally impressed with Zhao, ranked 85th in the world, after edging past the teenager at the English Open.
"I enjoyed watching him," said the 40-year-old Englishman, widely recognised as the most naturally gifted snooker player of all time. "He is such a wonderful player, such a wonderful scorer. He has such a wonderful technique... he's got every shot in the book."