STUART BINGHAM produced the performance of his life in one of the matches of the season to reach the Betfred World Championship final after 20 years as a professional on Saturday night.
Bingham’s 17-16 victory over Judd Trump was completed in a pulsating, high quality final session at the Crucible in Sheffield, in which he held his nerve in the decider, executing a plant to set him on the way to victory.
It completes Bingham’s remarkable transformation from journeyman to potential world champion. He has beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan and Trump and must now defeat 2005 winner Shaun Murphy to land the title.
Just five years ago such a run would have seemed unlikely but Bingham has established himself as one of the game’s top players ever since he broke through by winning the Australian Open in 2011.
He has since added the Premier League, a clutch of Asian Tour titles, the Shanghai Masters and Championship League. He has featured in several other major finals and embedded himself in the top 16, having been as high as fourth at one stage last year.
Yet despite all this success, he seems like a perennial underdog – a 38 year-old who logic dictates should be in decline. What’s more, he doesn’t mind this status, treating his Crucible run as a great experience.
“I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll be the underdog again but I’m enjoying it. I want to win but if I don’t, I don’t,” Bingham said after clinching victory.
Doubtless most will tip Murphy to beat him, just as they did O’Sullivan and Trump. But Bingham proved against Trump that he can stand up to the biggest pressure snooker can offer.
The start, though, will be huge for him. We saw how fatigued Barry Hawkins was in the first session of his semi-final against Murphy, and he never recovered.
Murphy is cueing with such confidence that if he does get ahead early on he could run away with the final. He certainly seems to be playing his best snooker at the Crucible in a decade. But Bingham is on one of those miracle runs and the momentum that has carried him into the final could yet take him all the way to the title.
Few players have been more committed to simply playing the game, in tournaments big, small and long since forgotten. He now gets to play snooker on the greatest stage of them all – a world final at the Crucible.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.