UK Championship: Judd Trump bridging the gap with snooker's greats

Judd Trump
Judd Trump's success in 2018-19 saw him become the first player to earn more than £1 million in a season
Betway UK Championship
Venue: York Barbican Dates: 26 November - 8 December
Coverage: Watch live across BBC Two, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, Connected TV, the BBC Sport website and mobile app from 30 November

Twelve months ago, with the UK Championship looming, Judd Trump was contemplating what he needed to do to reinvigorate a career teetering on brilliance, but too often falling just short.

Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Steve Davis and John Higgins are assured of their place among snooker's greats.

Trump was lagging some way behind, his tally of nine ranking titles an awkward mismatch given his undoubted, thrilling talents.

Cue five ranking titles in a calendar year, including a first World Championship, a Masters title and the prestige of being number one in the world.

"I can still play a little bit better," the world number one told BBC Sport after his latest ranking win at the Northern Ireland Open.

Trump's ominous assessment shows a new-found determination, founded on sheer hard work and, more importantly, fun.

"The fans seem to be loving it. I am enjoying my snooker and that is the key. And it shows in my performances," he added.

"When you are world number one it is an amazing feeling being introduced; it gives you five or 10% more every time you go out."

Trump, who faces world number 127 Amine Amiri in the first round on Thursday, previewed last year's York trip by embracing the gathering criticism of his perceived under-achievements as a "back-handed compliment".

He reasoned, that while still young and with plenty of ranking tournaments on the schedule, winning one ranking event a season before he retired would see him well into the 20s.

As it transpired, things didn't go so well in York, with a quarter-final loss to Joe Perry. But with a pre-Christmas trip up north nearing again, the 30-year-old appears to be fast-tracking his way to legendary status.

The now 14-time ranking event winner's latest success means he is eighth on the all-time list. O'Sullivan and Hendry lead on 36 apiece, with Higgins on 30 and Davis on 28.

'Unplayable'

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Trump's awesome performance in defeating Higgins to win his first Crucible title in May and the standards he has maintained since have drawn praise from one of the men already seen as snooker royalty, seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry.

"Against John Higgins in the world final Judd "out-matched" one of the best match players the sport has ever seen," Hendry told BBC Sport.

"In the second session, he was almost unplayable in every area of the game. He can mix his game up with his safety play and also tear players apart."

Trump is the first, first-time world champion to win three ranking titles the following season since Hendry in 1990/91.

"Stephen set some amazing records so any time you are mentioned alongside him, you know you have done something right," said the Bristolian, who beat another legend in Ronnie O'Sullivan to retain his title in Belfast.

"It's a special place for me. It kickstarted my career again last year. It was a high-standard match; we played some real good stuff and played off each other.

"It's a great feeling to be playing my best snooker on the biggest stage, not having to worry about going out there and embarrassing yourself.

"When I am under pressure, I can produce that extra level I wasn't able to before. I have always enjoyed going for my shots, but I stepped that back a bit and concentrated on my safety play and now I am able to combine the both of them."

If Trump can continue his sensational form and win the UK Championship for the second time, he will hold all three major titles, following his Masters and Crucible success earlier this year.

But he said it's crucial "not to put too much pressure" on winning.

"I am probably going to go in as favourite along with Ronnie now, so it is important to play myself into the tournament and not get too carried away," he added. "In the past, when I have put pressure on myself, I have ended up going out early.

"I need to enjoy myself. York is always a nice place to be at this time of year with good crowds. It would be amazing to be able to top off the best spell of my career with another trophy."

Judd Trump (left) and Neil Robertson
Trump has won three of the five ranking titles this season and also reached the final of the Champion of Champions where he lost to Neil Robertson

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