Anatomy of a Crucible decider
Ali Carter sweeps back into the theatre first, striding purposefully to his seat: having won the previous three frames, the underdog is riding a wave of momentum. Ten seconds later, the curtain parts and Judd Trump appears: pallid and ghostly against the black material, like a silhouette in reverse.
Many sportspeople have stories pertaining to that final 'look': "He was already gone," they tell you, "you could see it in his eyes." They don't tell you about the times they thought an opponent had gone and those empty eyes had lied.
But there is definitely something in the pre-deciding-frame handshake: Carter, looking officious, holding Trump's gaze a moment longer than necessary; Trump breaking the spell before seeking succour in some water.
"I never really felt good out there and he was more mentally ready," said Trump, last year's runner-up and this year's pre-tournament favourite. "I've played this game a lot of years," said Carter, "so I just felt that when it really mattered, at 12-12, it was going to turn for me."
For what seems an age, neither player pots a ball. Although Trump, in the words of Carter, "has a few lashes". "He'd been doing that the whole match and he just did not stop getting away with it," added Carter, a beaten finalist in 2008.
After 10 minutes and 22 seconds, Trump finally makes one disappear and all those whispers, all those stifled belches, splutters and coughs are buried in an avalanche of cheers. But Trump makes only nine before missing a red to the corner, the alchemy within the Crucible turning the cheers into "oohs" and "aahs" and no doubt a fair few "what on earth happened theres?"
Ali Carter was 12-9 down but recovered to beat Judd Trump runner-up 13-12. Photo: Getty
"Even little shots were hard," said Trump, "I was slowing down too much, taking too much time." Carter, staring at his toes and shaking his head, was equally unimpressed: "I don't think Judd realises how much luck he gets."
Carter cuts a red into the corner and Trump, neck craned, looking skywards through spidered fingers, searches for the Crucible's furthest nook. But Carter soon runs out of position and lets Trump back in. You get to tell the different Crucible murmurs apart: this one says "there's only one winner from here".
Only Trump knows different. "I felt really nervy towards the end. I finished perfect on the red and I was just trying not to over-screw it. But I decelerated through the ball and took my eye off it." Trump misses the red with the rest just before the half-hour mark and the inhalations of disbelief seem to suck the life out of the place. "But," said Trump, "Ali still had to clear up from there."
"Judd's missed that red by a millimetre," said Carter, "he's just not gone through the ball quite quickly enough. Miss: I've won. Simple."
Or at least it should have been. Carter, pausing after every shot, muttering audibly to himself in front of the scoreboard - working out how much of himself he is still required to give - chisels out a break of 47.
The Essex man becomes more and more Essex before our eyes, until he is verging on jaunty. Trump, meanwhile, looks ready to dissolve into tears.
"I potted the pink, gave it the fist pump, I think I've done enough," said Carter. "Next thing I know, Judd's got me in snooker after snooker after snooker and I'm thinking, 'oh, what's going on here, I should have known not to do that'."
Trump, requiring four snookers, is suddenly rebooted and precision personified. Carter misses one attempted escape and when he misses a second, he is half an inch away from leaving a free ball. "That summed it all up," said Trump. "Millimetres here and there were the difference."
"I was giving it large and now I'm back to the table," said Carter. "Before you know it, he's got you in a snooker and you lose - how do you feel then?"
Having given up four more points, Carter gives us a taster: disgusted with an errant safety, he moves on the press seats and swipes a flannel from the ledge. A camera swivels and is wheeled under his nose: an X-ray machine for the soul.
Eventually Trump blinks, not once but twice. Carter, having rattled the jaws with his first attempt, does not miss second time, cutting a red into the middle. Forty-three minutes of pent-up tension froths over, at least in the Crucible crowd. Carter, having learned his lesson, just waggles his tongue.
"Ali dealt with the pressure better, and that was the difference," said Trump. Added Carter: "The granite players, you can't just blast them off the table. I know my way round a table and I knew how to break him down in the end."
Carter pots the yellow, green and brown before making a perfunctory attempt at the blue. Almost as much as Trump, he just wants out by now. A tilt of his glass, another fist pump, and he's gone, sprinting through the curtain. Trump weaves towards the exit like a drunk having overshot his stop on the Tube.
"I've been on too many wrong ends of matches like that," said Carter. "Now he can feel what it's like to have a nasty scar on his career. It's not easy to get over." Something tells me Trump already knew that: not so much scarred by one of the bloodiest Crucible deciders, more like hanged, drawn and quartered.