THE 2015 Betfred World Championship represents Judd Trump’s best chance so far to win the sport’s biggest event.
All through this season he has played to a consistently high level. He has demonstrated a positive attitude, played in just about everything and won three titles, as well as coming close in two others.
He has also proved that he is not some one-dimensional potter, displaying a solid, effective tactical game up there with the very best in the sport.
At 25, he is the same age as Ronnie O’Sullivan when he won the first of his, so far, five world titles. Trump also has experience of having played in a world final, having lost 18-15 to John Higgins four years ago.
Trump first played at the Crucible in 2007 as a 17 year-old when he really was an out and out potter, albeit a really good one. He gave Shaun Murphy a bit of a scare in the first round and demonstrated great talent and potential, but also the rawness of youth.
He didn’t qualify again until 2011 but went to Sheffield having just won the China Open and duly knocked out defending champion Neil Robertson on the opening day. After that, he produced snooker of eye-catching brilliance, feeling like a breath of fresh air for the sport as he stormed past Martin Gould and Graeme Dott to reach the semi-finals, where he won a high quality contest, 17-15 against Ding Junhui.
He led John Higgins 10-7 after the first day of the final. The third session, and perhaps the whole match, turned on his decision to take on a tough blue in frame 22. Had it gone in he would have led 13-9. But he missed and it was 12-10. Higgins won the last three frames of the session and the match 18-15.
Trump had come close and won the UK Championship later in the year but now he was under scrutiny unprecedented in his career. Expectations were raised, including, perhaps, his own. Suddenly he was expected not only to compete with top players but to also beat them.
His results were inconsistent. At the Crucible, he lost a 13-12 thriller to Ali Carter in the second round in 2012, won one in the quarter-finals against Shaun Murphy the following year but lost 17-11 in the semis to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Last year, he looked tense and out of place in the first round against Tom Ford and eventually lost 13-11 from 9-6 up to Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals.
Trump has scored more heavily than anyone this season with 72 century breaks (Robertson is second with 52). However, he has also developed into a fine safety player, using this side of his game when it is needed, as it was when he found himself 5-1 down to Martin Gould in the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix.
Trump has become one of the best layers of snookers and one of the best escapers too. He has a quick snooker brain. It isn’t all flair and flashness. He understands what he’s doing.
More than that, though, his dedication to the sport has been exemplary this season. Nobody can win every tournament but Trump has given every tournament a good go.
This was evident by the mere fact he entered the Australian Goldfields Open, which he has skipped the last couple of years. And of course Trump won it, receiving the natural boost of confidence silverware brings.
He did not perform well early on in two finals against Ronnie O’Sullivan, first at the Champion of Champions and then the UK Championship, but displayed superb fighting qualities in making the two matches close – very close with regards to the UK.
And he eventually beat O’Sullivan in a final in Llandudno, a symbolic win because he could play him in the semis in Sheffield and would so with the knowledge he can beat him over a longer match.
Trump is maturing all the time. He may not have hit his peak yet. But he must go to the Crucible this year seriously fancying his chances.
However, snooker is hard. Few people ever say this. Faced with apparently easy pots, we expect top players to make them. Why? Because they’re top players. It’s what they do.
But when it means everything, when your career, indeed your life, can be defined by what you pot and what you miss, the pressure can be unbearable and thus performance suffers.
Trump has played well this season but the World Championship stands apart. It’s the only tournament left with long matches throughout and the focus is greater than at any point during the campaign.
He is widely expected to beat Stuart Carrington, a Crucible debutant who suffered many times at the hands of Trump as a junior. But this is the first round, this is often where the top seeds are the most vulnerable.
There are also plenty of other top players capable of producing world class snooker. Trump is in the same quarter as the dangerous Marco Fu, rejuvenated John Higgins and Ding Junhui, who returned to form in Beijing.
There have been plenty of well regarded tournament winners who never won the World Championship and plenty of form players who have gone to Sheffield and not performed.
Nothing is guaranteed in the heat of the Crucible.
Despite all that, Trump’s mind-set seems very strong. Like any player, he has learned from the setbacks and adapted his game accordingly.
A consistent campaign means he goes into the tournament with good form behind him and the self-belief critical to surviving the 17-day marathon.
It would be a surprise if he didn’t have a good run.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.