IT wasn’t so long ago that Stuart Bingham’s defeat to Fergal O’Brien at the Australian Open would have barely got a mention in dispatches.
The headlines on Monday would have gone to John Higgins, or Judd Trump – win, lose or draw. But in the first ranking tournament of the new season, it was just another reminder for Bingham that his life has changed forever.
It is also a measure of his astonishing emergence over the last few years as first a title contender, then a winner, and then a world champion, that the world No2’s first-round exit was the story of day one in Bendigo.
Such is the arbitrary and transitory nature of news, especially in the sporting sphere. If Southampton beat Chelsea or Manchester United, it is always the giants who are ‘in crisis’ rather than the underdogs playing out of their skin.
Before May’s memorable triumph and Crucible final win over Shaun Murphy, the now 39-year-old Bingham often operated at a level below ‘box office’ but a world title changes all that.
Losing the last three frames to O’Brien in a scratchy display and a 5-4 defeat saw some ‘World Champion in shock exit Down Under’ headlines, and that following on from England’s surprise early exit from the World Cup, in which Bingham was partnered by world No1 Mark Selby.
But is certain that Bingham would happily trade a few difficult headlines and some occasionally unwelcome focus for the lifetime’s ambition and dream he fulfilled in Sheffield, a feat that brought such joy not only to him but his family, friends and not a few other professionals.
On the table, the hunter can become the hunted, and staying at the top can prove a lot more difficult than getting there.
Tennis star Eugenie Bouchard recently remarked that she had not coped at all well with the superstardom conferred by a brilliant season last year, and after losing 10 of 12 matches in 2015 openly wondered if Serena Williams could advise her about how to deal with being a big scalp for the rest and “having a target on my back”.
So it could prove for Bingham, but you do suspect his experience and down-to-earth nature will see him through just fine.
Equally you imagine he will cope with any shift in the dynamics of the players’ room. It can become just slightly harder to be “one of the lads” when you are the world champion, the one they all wanted to win.
Off the table, Bingham will be one of the big stories in every tournament in which he plays as the reigning world champion in the current campaign, for better or worse.
The Basildon player’s form will be scrutinised as never before, and the prefix ‘world champion’ will be used as a stick with which to beat him when things are going badly, and a confirmation of enduring excellence when the titles are being tucked away and opponents put to the sword.
Nothing can be read in to Bingham’s form after just one event. Plenty of players showed signs of rustiness in Bendigo after a summer off, and O’Brien is no mug, No26 in the world, and the Irishman finished the match with breaks of 128, 50, 66 and 88. That would do for most people from 4-2 down in a best-of-nine.
But Bingham is now very much in the marquee club of world champions, world No1 and reigning Masters and UK champions – the big guns expected to fire. He will be feted when he plays well, and the defeats will get more attention. In short, it is the brave new world of a winner of the greatest title of them all.
Photograph by Monique Limbos