2019 Snooker in review including Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump

Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump were two of the star performers in 2019
Ronnie O'Sullivan and Judd Trump were two of the star performers in 2019

Richard Mann reflects on a year in which Ronnie O'Sullivan broke more records and Judd Trump was crowned snooker's world champion for the first time.

Trump Masters the master

2019 began with Ronnie O'Sullivan riding on a crest of a wave, fresh from his 19th Triple Crown success at the UK Championship in York, but it would end with Judd Trump having usurped him as the biggest hitter in the sport.

That's not to say that O'Sullivan didn't enjoy his fair share of success in 2019 - victories at the Players Championship and Tour Championship before he kicked off this season by winning the Shanghai Masters to again reaffirm that he remains a snooker superpower - but defeat to Trump in two more major finals and contrasting fortunes at the World Championship have finally seen a changing of the guard.

Rewind to January and O'Sullivan's bid for a seventh Masters title was going firmly to plan as he made seamless progress to the final, beating Ding Junhui in a high-class semi-final, but Trump proved an altogether different challenge.

O'Sullivan barely had time to catch his breath as he found himself 4-0 down in the face of a fearsome Trump onslaught and by the end of the first session he trailed 7-1, the match having almost certainly slipped from his grasp.

Trump would eventually prevail 10-4, a brilliant and dominant performance setting the scene for the year to come and although O'Sullivan gained his revenge in a thrilling last-four clash at the Tour Championship, Trump would master the master once again when they met for the second year in a row in the final of the Northern Ireland Open in November.

Judd Trump
Judd Trump

Sandwiched between those triumphs, Trump won the World Grand Prix, the World Championship, the International Championship and the World Open.

With UK Championship and Masters titles already on his CV, the final peak for Trump to scale was the World Championship and last spring saw the crowning of a champion and a new dawn in the sport.

Trump's dismantling of John Higgins in the final was one of the finest displays ever produced at the Crucible Theatre, as destructive an exhibition of snooker as you could wish to see and one which left the likes of Higgins and O'Sullivan in awe.

The new season has brought more of the same and if we were in any doubt about Trump's position at the head of the world rankings, three finals in as many weeks from late September into November firmly stamped his authority on a campaign in which has has been the shining light.

A shock defeat to Nigel Bond at the recent UK Championship was a firm setback but his post-match comments were both measured and mature and would suggest he won't let that defeat hold him back as he heads to London for the defence of his Masters crown in the new year.

Judd Trump is snooker's world champion
Judd Trump is snooker's world champion

Ronnie rockets to 1000

It might have been Trump's year but O'Sullivan certainly enjoyed his fair share of success and his two displays to beat Neil Robertson in the finals of the Players Championship and Tour Championship were as close to complete performances as you could wish to see.

O'Sullivan was pushed hard by an on-song Robertson in the Tour Championship but his victory at the Preston Guild Hall was much more straightforward and the last frame will go down in history, O'Sullivan closing out the match with a typically sumptuous run of 134 that had the crowd in raptures as he reached 1000 career centuries.

It was pure theatre, O'Sullivan with a cheeky smile on his face as he teased the crowd in reference to his earlier promise to save the milestone for when he was playing in an event covered by Eurosport.

As it was, ITV4 was the stage for this latest piece of snooker history and it was appropriate that veteran commentator Clive Everton was the man to call it.

As O'Sullivan sunk another black to take the break to 99, O'Sullivan got down to pot the following red before again teasing the crowd, then switching to his left hand and stroking the red into the heart of the pocket.

As the crowd erupted and O'Sullivan's supporters got to their feet in celebration, Everton allowed himself a chuckle at the great man's cheekiness before giving the perfect summation: 'It's the storybook ending - he wins the title with his 1000th century. What a player.'

What a player indeed and while O'Sullivan wasn't quite able to reach those heights for the remainder of 2019, his victory at the Shanghai Masters and recent run to the final of the Northern Ireland Open confirms he remains one of the biggest hitters on the tour.

His decision to skip next month's Masters is a body blow to the event but it could yet prove a blessing in disguise in regards to his expected bid for sixth world title in Sheffield later in the season and while 2019 might have seen O'Sullivan's firm grip on the sport loosen ever so slightly, it also offered up some unforgettable moments and reminded us that he will remain a force to be reckoned with in the coming 12 months.

Ding is back, long live the Ding

Ding Junhui surged back to his best with a brilliant UK Championship victory in York - his third victory in the event but some 10 years after his last - and his superb defeat of Stephen Maguire in the final has to be one of the highlights of the year.

Like so many of the young players from China, Ding has had to shoulder a heavy burden of expectation but for him, it has been greater than anyone else.

Despite adding 14 ranking titles and a Masters victory to an impressive CV, Ding's failure to win the World Championship has seen him come in for some stinging criticism and it appears to have worn him down to such an extent that he slipped out of the top 16 earlier in the year.

For a player of Ding's pedigree that was a remarkable fall from grace but he responded in the best possible way, working hard on the practice table and delivering in one of the biggest events on the calendar.

And he did it the hard way, too, knocking out O'Sullivan in a brilliant last-16 clash before outgunning Maguire in the final, the latter himself a former UK Championship winner who arrived at the final having swept all before him in the previous week.

Ding Junhui wins his third UK Championship
Ding Junhui won his third UK Championship

The final was a fine showpiece, one which saw the two players combine for seven centuries in the match and four in a row in a high-class evening session.

When Ding eventually cruised over the line for a 10-6 victory, he was finally back at the top tier of snooker and could begin to open up about the doubts that had crept into his mind following so many setbacks in the previous 18 months.

He talked about how fatherhood has changed him and how those closest to him helped him through his darkest hours. This might well be a new Ding, one who possesses all the old talent but is more robust and better prepared to withstand the many pressures and challenges that face a Chinese snooker icon.

Roll on Sheffield.

Shot of the Year

Mark Williams made much of the running with his outrageous blue in his semi-final with Hossein Vafaei at the China Championship.

Williams had found himself struggling for position, wrong side of the blue and with no reds in the open as he looked to continue his break in this closely contested last-four clash, but he somehow managed to keep the break going.

The Welshman thumped the blue into the heart of the middle pocket and slid the cue ball past the green before it straightened off the top cushion and hurtled towards the pack of reds, splitting them perfectly and leaving himself nicely on his next pot.

There's your winner then? Not quite.

Step forward Judd Trump.

Having found himself entrenched in another bruising encounter with old foe Higgins at the Northern Ireland Open, Trump took control of the match with a remarkable positional shot in the eighth frame which allowed him to extend his lead to 5-3 and put himself on the cusp of a second Belfast final in as many years.

Trump had built a healthy lead in the frame but with three reds all covering each other on the bottom cushion and Higgins watching on in his chair and ready to pounce, Trump pulled off a brilliant pot on the black whilst swinging the ball in and out of baulk off two cushions and cannoning into the reds perfectly.

It was vintage Trump; 'naughty snooker' pulled off in the heat of battle when the match was on the line and, with the frame at his mercy, he didn't look back, going on to win the match before lifting the title a day later.

Shot of the year from the player of the year.

2019 really was the year of Judd Trump.

Honourable mentions

Neil Robertson enjoyed a fine 2019 and in any other year, would easily have been the success story.

The turn of the year saw a dramatic upturn in his fortunes, Robertson reaching four finals in a row before making the last eight of the World Championship.

The Australian turned four of those final appearances into two wins, at the Welsh Open and China Open, and although the new season has been less fruitful so far, he managed to get the better of Trump in a thrilling and high-quality Champion of Champions final.

He has been one of the stars of 2019 and remains a credit to the sport both on and off the table.

Having endured a horror 2018/2019 campaign, Shaun Murphy kicked off the new season with three final appearances to confirm he remains a fine operator while two of the three Home Nations events went to Mark Selby to suggest he is close to the level of form that saw him win three world titles between 2014 and 2017.

A third consecutive World Championship final for John Higgins ended in defeat once more but this legend of the sport has ended the year pushing hard for another ranking-title win, as have the likes of Mark Allen and Jack Lisowski.

John Higgins
John Higgins

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