Neal Foulds will be penning a fortnightly column on Sporting Life
Neal Foulds will be penning a fortnightly column on Sporting Life

Neal Foulds snooker column: Eurosport and ITV pundit previews the UK Championship in York

Trump too strong for weary Higgins

I imagine new champion of champions Judd Trump will be very satisfied with his week’s work in Bolton, having dominated from start to finish and politely reminded anyone who might have been doubting him that he is still the best player in the world.

Having not won an event since the Gibraltar Open in March, and seen his world number one ranking taken by Mark Selby, Trump might have felt he had a little bit to prove last week. If that were the case, he certainly did that with a ruthless display throughout which saw him win 16 frames in a row, and 10 out of the final 11 on Sunday having lost the first three frames of the final against John Higgins.

It really was exceptional stuff and I think Higgins was right when he said afterwards that Trump was just too good. It reminded me a little bit of the 2019 World Championship final when Trump inflicted a similarly heavy defeat on the Scot. Having been devastated to have lost the two world finals preceding 2019, and now the two most recent events of this season after letting slip good leads on both occasions, I think there are lots of similarities with what we saw on Sunday and Sheffield in 2019. Higgins has enjoyed another very good week, but Trump was just too strong on the day.

Higgins was typically gracious after the match, suggesting his defeat had nothing to do with his late-night finish on Saturday, but his 6-5 win over Yan Bingtao came in a gruelling encounter that will have taken plenty of out him. It had to leave its mark and Higgins looked like he was running on empty towards the end of the final. He’s in the midst of a fine season, but Sunday was probably one match too many.

Judd Trump was too strong for John Higgins in the Champion of Champions final
Judd Trump was too strong for John Higgins in the Champion of Champions final

As I said here a few weeks ago, Higgins is already firmly established as one of the greats of the game and I do believe Trump is now in that bracket. The Champion of Champions was missing from his CV, but the Tour Championship is now the only thing left for him to win. I know he’s lost his world number one status for now, but given how many ranking points winning the World Championship yields, to have not won the big one for two years and yet still picked up enough points elsewhere to be number two in the world is an achievement in itself.

When talking about great players, I wouldn’t just judge on the number of events individuals have won, but also the impact they’ve had on the sport. Like Steve Davis did in the 1980s, and then Stephen Hendry, followed by the Class of ’92, Trump has taken the game to a new level with his own brand of snooker. He doesn’t always have perfect position, but he just keeps potting balls whatever the situation. By the time he’s finished, he’ll need to have won more big events to ensure we are still talking about him as one of the absolute greats, but he’s most certainly a modern great who promises to dominate for some time to come.

I thought the week on the whole was a good one with some terrific snooker played and a worthy winner in Trump. Snooker on ITV is very well done with every ball shown live, and I’ve always liked the concept of this tournament: it’s for champions with the tournament winner being crowned the champion of them all. It’s already a big event and I think the Tour Championship will grow to a similar level, given that you need to be in the top eight on the one-year rankings just to qualify for that one and that the best-of-19-frames matches are the perfect preparation for Sheffield. I’m already looking forward to the Tour Championship in March and I suspect Trump will be, too.

Neil Robertson is the headline selection at the UK Championship
CLICK HERE to read Richard Mann's UK Championship outright preview

Trump will head to York for this week’s UK Championship as worthy favourite, and I do think he needs to hold one of the Triple Crown titles to justify his ‘best player in the world’ tag. Two years ago, he arrived in York needing victory to hold all three at the same time following victories in the Masters and World Championship, but was sensationally knocked out by Nigel Bond.

Last year was a little bit different with the event played behind closed doors in Milton Keynes, and losing on the final couple of balls to Neil Robertson didn’t stop him enjoying another stellar campaign. Still, Trump’s only win in York came back in 2011 and having made no secret that he views this event as a really big one, he’ll be desperate to do well. When he’s got some impetus, he’s not easy to stop and it’s hard to think he won’t put up a bold show.

World champion Selby primed for bold York bid

He’s the obvious one, but I think the aforementioned Selby can pick up his first title of the season and he’d be my pick. I didn’t think he did a great deal wrong when losing to Yan Bingtao last week in a match that turned on a big fluke for the latter in the fifth frame. I know he was really disappointed afterwards, but Selby’s record in ITV events is strangely poor and it’s safe to assume he’ll be a big player over the next week or so.

Historically, current world champions have a really good record in the UK Championship and I remember John Parrott winning the World Championship in 1991 and then adding this title to his CV later that year. I haven’t always been in Selby’s corner, but I think his best snooker is coming and to my mind, he and Trump are the men to beat.

Speaking of Yan, you can’t fail to be impressed by the 21-year-old who is incredibly tough and continues to defy his inexperience. He might not be the most naturally talented, but he’s hard as nails mentally and has this wonderful knack of stopping his opponents playing. There is surely plenty more to come from a young man who is a very fine operator already.

Others in the mix for York are, of course, defending champion Neil Robertson and Ronnie O’Sullivan. This is never an easy title to defend, but Robertson has already won once this term and it’s hard to argue with his credentials, while O’Sullivan’s form would be more of a concern, though I’m not in the business of underestimating this great player.

I noted Trump’s comments a week or so ago about O’Sullivan not being feared on the Tour like he once was, and maybe there is some truth in that, but let’s not forget that he was world champion only 18 months ago. He didn’t play well against Higgins last week, and perhaps his old rival has got his number for the time being, but I think O’Sullivan is a long way from being done.

Ronnie O'Sullivan reigns supreme in York
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Can special York revive dangerous O'Sullivan?

Maybe there are just a few cracks starting to appear in his game, and that spellbinding brilliance he can produce isn’t there quite as often, but I believe he can win more Triple Crown titles – I really do. O’Sullivan has been making noises about the Home Nations events being a warm-up for the bigger tournaments later in the season, so I guess now is the time for him to back that up, but we know how much he loves playing in York and his record there is second to none.

And O’Sullivan is right, York really is a great part of the world. The UK Championship was held in Preston for many years and it was a wonderful event back then, but I do think moving to York has been for the better. York is a special place, especially at this time of year, and having missed it last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, it will be great to get back there. I’m really looking forward to it.

In fact, I’m really looking forward to a busy period on the snooker calendar full stop, with three huge tournaments coming up. The UK Championship is, of course, first on the agenda, but the Scottish Open is a big event in its own right and while it sometimes goes under the radar on the back of York, it soon gathers importance when the snooker starts, and the trophy is invariably lifted by a great player at the end of the week.

After that, we finish with the World Grand Prix which is a fantastic event live on ITV, and like last year’s winner, Trump, I suspect any of the top players would bite your hand off if you offered them victory in this one, or any of the three tournaments before Christmas.

Trump will be targeting them all, but this is the part of the season that all the top players are looking to peak for and the snooker usually reflects that. And then, straight after Christmas, we’ve got the Masters which is always a week to savour. For snooker fans, there really is much to look forward to.

More from Neal Foulds

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