Judd Trump‘s win at the Masters earlier this year means the World Snooker Championship is the one major trophy missing from his cabinet – and this could finally be his year to get his hands on the biggest prize in snooker.
Trump first qualified for the Sheffield showpiece as a teenager way back in 2007 but really burst on to the scene in his next Crucible appearance four years later.
The then 21-year-old downed defending champion Neil Robertson in the first round and went all the way to the final, becoming the youngest player since Stephen Hendry in 1990 to do so, but lost out to John Higgins in the decider.
Trump went on to win the UK Championship the following season but failed to deliver on the biggest of stages in the following years, despite rising to the top of the rankings for a period, until he finally claimed his second Triple Crown victory at the Masters this year.
Ending that long wait for a second major may be the confidence boost Trump needed ahead of this year’s World Snooker Championship and the manner of his Masters success won’t have hurt either.
The Bristol native was the underdog going into the final but produced a masterclass to overcome Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-4 in London.
Trump’s ability has never been questioned but there have always been aspects of his game that needed work. The 29-year-old now seems to have a strong safety game and his shot selection has improved – qualities undoubtedly needed in the long matches at the Crucible Theatre.
If Trump is to go all the way then he will have to navigate his way through a tougher half of the draw. The world number seven could come up against Ding Junhui in the second round and O’Sullivan in the last eight, while Mark Selby and Mark Allen are potential semi-final opponents.
The ‘Juddernaught’ will have to do it the hard way but he does tend to up his game against strong opposition, so the tough route may not necessarily be a hindrance as he bids to land the one major that has so far proven elusive.
As a five-time champion and the record major winner, O’Sullivan is the legitimate favourite and simply can’t be ignored – particularly given his outstanding campaign.
The ‘Rocket’ has opted for limited schedules in recent years and has gone a step further this season by competing in just 10 overall, both ranking and non-ranking.
Despite his relative lack of action, the 43-year-old still has five tournament wins and two further final appearances, and has managed to claim top spot in the rankings for the first time in nine years.
O’Sullivan is also seeking to complete a hat-trick of major finals this season after winning the UK Championship and finishing as runner-up at the Masters.
O’Sullivan is keen to chase down Hendry’s record of seven world titles and move one clear of the Scot by landing a 37th ranking tournament win.
However, he has tended to struggle at the Crucible in recent years and has admitted in the build-up to this year’s edition of the showpiece he considers it the hardest tournament for the players.
The 18-time major winner’s last success in Sheffield came in 2013 and he did go on to reach the final the following year, losing out to Selby, but results since have been less impressive.
O’Sullivan hasn’t progressed beyond the last eight since that defeat to Selby and went out in the second round last year to Ali Carter.
Along with O’Sullivan and Trump, Robertson has been one of the form players on the tour this season. In a further boost to his World Snooker Championship chances, he finds himself in the weaker-looking top half of the draw.
The ‘Thunder From Down Under’ is a former winner, having taken the title in 2010, and is back up to number four in the rankings after struggling last season.
The Australian won the most recent ranking event, the China Open, and has reached four successive finals going into the season-ending showpiece, so he looks a real contender this year.
Like O’Sullivan, however, one major concern for anyone looking to get behind Robertson is his recent record at the Crucible.
Since his win in 2010, the 37-year-old has reached the semi-finals just one and has been knocked out in the first round in two of the last three years.
Robertson did reach the last four at the Masters and the fourth round of the UK Championship, so his performances in majors have improved this year, giving reason to be optimistic although he will need to be at his best to mount a serious challenge.
The top half of the draw throws up a few possibilities for an each-way bet should Robertson fail to reach the final and Barry Hawkins looks a solid option at a big price.
The ‘Hawk’ can’t face Robertson until the last four, while O’Sullivan, Trump and Selby are in the other half, and he is a man who does have a strong record in Sheffield.
Form seems to go out of the window for Hawkins when he arrives in South Yorkshire. After reaching the final in 2013, he has since contested four semi-finals and one further quarter-final.
The 39-year-old may well be able to go one better this year by reaching a second final and the each-way option on Hawkins at a big price appeals.