Tuesday 21 May 2019

Eamonn Sweeney: 'Trump's different type of astonishing would ignite thrilling final showdown with O'Sullivan'

Judd Trump celebrates as he wins the 2019 Betfred World Snooker Championship final. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Judd Trump celebrates as he wins the 2019 Betfred World Snooker Championship final. Photo: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images
Eamonn Sweeney

Eamonn Sweeney

Those describing the world snooker final as the greatest of all time may have been gilding the lily a bit. Judd Trump's 18-9 victory over John Higgins was too one-sided for it to rival Dennis Taylor's last-ball triumph over Steve Davis in 1985 or Davis' nail-biting win over Jimmy White the year before that.

But it is true that Trump gave the finest individual performance in final history. At times, particularly during the run which brought him from 5-4 down to 12-5 up, he seemed to be redefining the limits of the game, potting balls which normally would have been considered safe and successfully pulling off shots nobody else would even have considered. It was, in the words of Davis, "A different type of astonishing."

Trump's seven century breaks were a final record but bare stats can't begin to capture the extraordinary nature of his shots. There was the shot that clinched the tenth frame, a long red with the white close to the cushion and no safe balls left on the table, executed with a hint of swerve. And a red cut into the top left hand pocket in the 22nd frame when only the middle pocket had seemed any way attainable.

There was also a ball spun into the top right pocket in the fourth frame from a tricky cueing position and the unlikely looking long red which began his 135 break in the tenth. In the ninth frame, a piece of insulating tape fluttered down from the ceiling as Trump tried to cut a difficult red into the bottom right hand pocket. It didn't stop him.

Nothing would have stopped Judd Trump, who was providing a prime example of one of those days when a sports star is absolutely in the zone and reaches a new height which seems to surprise even themselves. His subdued mien after clinching the title suggested a young man somewhat shocked after being possessed by something momentarily greater than himself.

The new champion also set new standards for graciousness with a tribute to Higgins which seemed so heartfelt the great Scotsman seemed genuinely moved by it. There was a time when Trump liked to shout the odds, notably before the 2017 championship when he declared, "I can play to a standard which is very rare nowadays. I'm the best in the world," before losing his first round match to the unfancied Rory McLeod.

That defeat, following his second round defeat by Ding Junhui in 2016, made you wonder if Trump would fulfil the vast potential obvious in 2011 when at 21 he became the youngest finalist since Stephen Hendry in 1990, leading Higgins 10-7 after the first day before succumbing 18-15.

Trump looked the finest natural talent to emerge since Ronnie O'Sullivan, yet the peculiar demands of the world championship mean more than raw talent is needed to win it. The presence of Jimmy White at this year's tournament is a living reminder of that.

People wondered if Trump's aggressive, risk-taking style and his fondness for both socialising and social media, (he famously tweeted, "Drinks on me later if I get out of jail here" during the final mid-session interval of his first round game with Liang Wenbo in 2016) might doom him to joining White, Matthew Stevens and Eddie Charlton on the 'Best Ever To Never' lists. Hendry was just one of those observing that someone with Trump's talent should have won a world title before this.

Now he has after generally toning down his act while not losing the adventure integral to his game. Perhaps the greatest tribute to his final performance came from Ronnie O'Sullivan, a man not known for showering praise on his fellow professionals. "Judd's game is better than Higgins' best game, it's better than Hendry's best game and it's better than my best game," said the five-time world champ. "He's taken the game to another level. It'll take another generation to catch up and play the kind of game he plays."

O'Sullivan might not have won a world title since 2013 but he continues to tower over the sport like a colossus, a maverick throwback in an era when the other leading players possess all the charisma of the Tory front bench. Perhaps Trump's game-changing final performance might provide the Rocket with the necessary impetus to return to his best form at the worlds.

A Trump-O'Sullivan final in 2020 might well catapult snooker back to the central place in the public affections it enjoyed in the era before live football stole its thunder. Here's hoping. As the new champion showed last week, at its best this combination of artistry and geometry, inspiration and mechanics, has a wonderful appeal all its own.

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