Judd Trump has won the 2017 European Masters title after an entertaining 9-7 triumph against Stuart Bingham in Belgium on Sunday.
In doing so, the Englishman defends the crown he first captured twelve months ago when he narrowly beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in a decider 9-8 in Romania.
That was the same scoreline when Trump and Bingham had their last meeting in the final showdown of the Welsh Open earlier this year, but on that occasion it was the latter who was all smiles with his name etched on the silverware.
This contest was similarly close and, although it didn’t quite go the distance, it featured an array of big breaks along with several twists and turns.
Trump had been the marginal favourite before the final fixture, especially after a terrific performance in the semi-final against Cao Yupeng highlighted the 28 year-old’s scoring prowess.
However, the former world number one was slow to start in the afternoon, finding himself 2-1 behind after a couple of scrappy opening exchanges.
Trump finally rediscovered some attacking prowess with a 90 to even the scores at the mid-session interval, and there were big breaks from both cueists for much of the remainder of the tie.
Bingham, in search of a fifth ranking title of his career, seemed to gain a modicum of control when he spectacularly produced back-to-back centuries to lead 4-2.
But Trump crucially grabbed the last two frames of the session to leave things nicely poised heading into the evening session.
Another century, a 130 that represented the highest of their clash, sent Bingham back in front upon the game’s resumption, but Trump’s first ton of his own helped him go on a three-frame run to take him 7-5 in front.
Bingham responded to again level as the match seemed to be heading for a repeat of their decider in February, but a 66 followed by a coolly constructed 107 in the last frame saw Trump become victorious in Lommel.
It marks the former UK champion’s eighth ranking event title, taking him ahead of Shaun Murphy on the all-time winners’ list.
It also means that Trump has won three ranking events over the course of a year, having featured in six finals – the most of any player on the circuit in that period.
Trump has undoubtedly begun to show more consistently why he can be labelled as one of the game’s very elite competitors, and his big match mentality is certainly becoming more hardened.
Critics will perhaps point to defeats such as his first round exit in the World Championship and the fact that many of his recent tournament successes have come in some of the smaller ranking events, but a hat-trick of trophies in a year is nothing to be sniffed at in the current climate of the game when the pool of players who threaten every week is so large.
Trump and arguably Ding Junhui appear as the likely contenders to challenge Selby’s dominance at the top of the rankings, which would still be a long way off despite the “Jester” struggling for top form so far this campaign, with the younger pair triumphing in each of the last two tournaments.
For Bingham, it will be a disappointing conclusion to an otherwise terrific few days for the 41 year-old, as he consistently puts himself in the position at business ends of events to fight it out for glory over the weekend’s play.
Yet, the week, and indeed the European Masters since its inception, has been all about Trump and it will be interesting to see if he can claim back-to-back titles for the first time when he competes in the English Open next week – the start of the potentially lucrative Home Nations series.