Phil Haigh ✍️
Judd Trump is cutting a frustrated figure as he heads into the 2022 World Snooker Championship, irked by both what he sees as a lack of progress in the sport and with his own form this season. But the inner confidence never wanes, as he says: ‘If both players play their best then I am the best.’
A great season by almost any other player’s standards, Trump has won the Turkish Masters and Champion of Champions, but it has just not been as good as his stellar last two campaigns, so has felt underwhelming for the Ace.
The sense of irritation within the 2019 world champ is clear as even just asking him how he’s feeling on arrival at the Crucible sees frustrations pour out.
‘This tournament is always special, the Masters is always special but some of the other tournaments are a bit half-hearted now the China ones have been gone for a couple of years,’ Trump told Metro.co.uk.
‘I think a lot of the tournaments are quite poor, a bit rushed. This is one that, when you get started, you’re excited to be here. It’s the rest of the season in between, I feel like the game has gone a little bit downhill over the past couple of years.
‘There’s been no real progress in the stature, the prize money anything like that. I feel like someone who is trying to promote the game as best as possible, be adventurous, do different things and get your name out there, I feel that people don’t seem to have the same kind of views as me.’
The pandemic has obviously made this very difficult over the last two years, with snooker doing well to keep a full calendar of events, never mind make significant expansions.
However, Trump says he is not the only one feeling frustrated and now intends to just concentrate on playing rather than speak out on changes he wants to see brought in.
‘I think all the top players are frustrated,’ he said. ‘I think Ronnie [O’Sullivan] especially has tried to help in the past but gave up a long time ago. I think I’ll probably have to go down that line at some point.
‘It is important to me, but I think it’s best just to play snooker. Play this event, get it out the way, hopefully I can do well, there’s no reason why I can’t do well.
‘I’ve put the work in and I’ll be trying my best. It’s nice to have friends and family back supporting. For me, when I come here I like to have a big base around me so I feel at home. This is the first year in three that I’ve been able to do that.’
On his own chances of a second world title this year, Trump is far from clear, having left the Tour Championship last month after an early exit and sounding like he was woefully out of love with snooker.
He told The Sportsman: ‘My main aim in snooker always is to enjoy it, and at the moment I am not.
‘So whether I have to start missing more events or even do what Ronnie did and miss a season out, I don’t know.’
After a short break between the Tour Championship and Crucible preparation Trump is ready for the challenge in Sheffield, but cannot be certain of how his form is.
‘I don’t really know where my game is,’ he said. ‘I had a few days off and then started practicing again, so not really [a break], I think I’ll just save it until the end of the season.
‘See how this tournament goes, the tournament’s so long, you can be playing bad, scrape through and you’ve got another 15 days of the tournament left. It’s such an adventure this event, but it’s one that you can quite easily find form in, because you’ve got so long to find it.
‘I don’t really know what to expect this time. I’ve prepared as well as I have done in the last couple of years, but I could go out there and miss everything, or fly from the start. It probably makes it easier for me knowing that I’m not favourite, it’s a 50-50 first round game, hopefully I find a bit of confidence and go further.’
Trump sounds like he is talking down his chances a bit and taking the pressure off his shoulders, but he insists there is no problem with his confidence, it’s just that he must keep proving his quality to fans.
‘I’ll always think I’m the best player in the world, I know my game and I know other people have different opinions, but on my day I’ve proved that if both players play their best then I am the best,’ he said.
‘So I still know that deep down, but you’ve got to keep proving it. Proving it at every event otherwise people are quick to forget what’s happened.
‘It can be annoying because it feels like all your hard work gets forgotten straight after if you don’t keep doing it, but it’s the same in every sport, someone else comes along and you get forgotten about. If I want to be considered the best, I’m sure winning this title will go a long way towards that.’
If he is to lift the World Championship trophy for a second time he will have to beat Hossein Vafaei in the first round, with the challenge of the Iranian debutant something he is looking forward to.
‘He’s one of the players…it’s a tough draw but his style of play suits me as well,’ said Judd. ‘It’s going to be an open game, I didn’t want someone slower, or who’s not going to be attacking.
‘This is going to be a game where they’ll either go in or not. You’re not worried about getting pulled off, it’ll be over as quick as possible. He’s someone I enjoy watching, he hits the ball really good and looks like he’s got a lot of confidence in himself, hopefully that can rub off on me as well.’
Vafaei ruffled some feathers before the tournament when he said Ronnie O’Sullivan was not good for snooker, hadn’t done enough to grow the game and should retire.
Trump says the Prince of Persia has made similar comments in the past, and while he backs any player speaking their mind, he thinks Vafaei’s words were far too harsh on the Rocket.
‘He’s said that to me before when we was flying to another tournament, so it didn’t surprise me when it come out,’ Trump said.
‘As someone that’s sort of up and coming, he might not realise that other people have tried to get somewhere and it gets thrown back in your face.
‘He’s someone that obviously wants to expand the game, but it’s not as easy as that. Plenty of people have tried, including myself, including Ronnie, I know at times he’s gone out of his way to promote the game but it hasn’t been reciprocated. Nowadays he does his own thing, turns up, plays his tournaments and that’s the best way to be.
‘You’ve got to get it off your chest, no point holding it in or caring what people think. If that’s on his mind and he gets it out, he has to be his own person. People can like him or not, either way.’
Trump and Vafaei will be looking to take out their frustrations on each other on the Crucible baize on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening in the first round at the Crucible for a place in the last 16.
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