The eyes of the snooker fraternity may be fixed on Ronnie O’Sullivan as we edge ever closer to the start of the 2024 World Championship, but The Rocket himself believes Judd Trump is the man to beat in Sheffield this year.
Judd Trump - To Win Outright
O’Sullivan trumped his rival in an enthralling World Grand Prix final in January; overturning a three-frame deficit to win seven of the final eight frames to secure a 10-7 triumph and, in the process, land his fourth ranking title of the season.
Whilst the Londoner remains the favourite to extend his World Snooker Championship tally to a record haul of eight, the current UK Championship and Masters title holder is adamant that it will be 2019 champion Trump carrying the biggest target on his back at the iconic Crucible Theatre.
“Sheffield is a different animal and is three sessions,” O’Sullivan, who is looking to capture all three Triple Crown titles in a single season for the first time, said following his win.
“When you're playing different opponents, you can get geed up easier. You put that match behind you and reset, but when you're facing the same opponent over three or four sessions, you don't really get that reset feeling.
“If I can find a bit of steadiness, then I've got a chance, but Judd (Trump) is a warrior, and, for me, he is the favourite to win the World Championship.”
The Ace in the Pack may have been ousted in the showpiece Masters final, but a subsequent victory at the German Masters suggests there’s little doubt that the flamboyant Bristolian will be touching down in South Yorkshire brimming with confidence having already captured four titles of his own this season.
Trump enjoyed a landslide 18-9 victory over John Higgins in the 2019 Crucible final.
Incredibly, he reeled three of those off on the spin during a sensational month of October; becoming only the fifth player in history to do so!
His 20 match winning streak secured him success at the English Open, Wuhan Open and the Northern Ireland Open, following in the footsteps of fellow snooker greats Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ding Junhui; the only other players to have captured three successive ranking trophies.
That haul elevated him back to the summit of the WST World Rankings list, but O’Sullivan’s subsequent victories at the UK Championship, Masters and World Grand Prix have seen him leapfrog Trump and re-establish his position as the world number one.
The Juddernaut has already surpassed £500,000 in prize money for this season alone - enough to put him at the top of the one-year list - and that tally could have been boosted yet further had he managed to prevail in at least one of the other three finals he has reached in 2023/24.
He was beaten 9-6 by Barry Hawkins in the final of the 2023 European Masters, missing out on an additional £45,000, whilst his defeats to O’Sullivan (at the World Grand Prix) and Mark Allen in the Champion of Champions final cost him another £150,000.
But, for all of his exuberance and flashiness off the table, it’s not money that serves as Trump’s biggest motivator in this day and age.
The 34-year-old currently sits fifth in the all-time ranking title list on 27, just a solitary win shy of Steve Davis’ haul of 28 and a further two adrift of John Higgins’ tally of 31.
Stephen Hendry on 36 is nine ahead of Trump, and whilst the 41 captured by O’Sullivan is undoubtedly going to take some beating, you’d be a fool to write off the Ace in the Pack coming close to reaching, or even surpassing, that figure.