Judd Trump silenced his critics with an excellent 9-7 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final of the Northern Ireland Open on Sunday in Belfast.
It represents the Englishman’s ninth ranking event title – a first since October last year – and the result reaffirms his status as one of the top players in the game.
Trump had gone into the final as the marginal underdog against a player in fine form but could recall upon several high-profile wins against the “Rocket”.
The last time the pair met in a final was in the Shanghai Masters this time last year when O’Sullivan hammered Trump 10-3 but it always looked as though this contest was going to follow the trend of their other showdowns for glory, which all either went the distance or very close to it.
Indeed, a dramatic opening frame set the tone that a close encounter was in store, with both players missing routine browns before a lengthy bout of safety concluded with O’Sullivan going in-off and Trump clearing the colours to take it on the black.
O’Sullivan, who won the Champion of Champions in Coventry last week to add to his defence of the revamped Shanghai Masters in September, immediately got on the board with a break of 69 before moving in front for the first time in a match that ebbed one way and then the other.
The pair traded tons either side of the mid-session interval before a brace of 58 breaks in two close frames sandwiched a 108 from Trump to ensure parity after the first session’s eight frames.
Lacking the fluency expected from the two attacking players, the opening four frames of the evening session were shared to set up a grandstand finish at the Waterfront Hall.
The two Northern Ireland Open finals in 2016 and 2017 had both taken all 17 frames to determine an outcome and it looked as though this year’s edition was going to follow suit.
A terrific 134 from O’Sullivan took him back in front and seemed to signal a timely push for the winning post but Trump had other ideas and, in fact, controlled the last three frames to inflict only the second defeat of this term on his countryman.
The latter’s wait for a 34th ranking crown that will bring him to within just two of the all-time record held by Stephen Hendry must go on for at least another tournament.
But the kudos must go to Trump for splendidly holding his nerve when it mattered most, particularly after it had looked as though O’Sullivan had found his scoring groove.
Kyren is a good player but please don’t put him in the same league as trump, there’s no comparison.
— MARK WILLIAMS M.B.E (@markwil147) November 18, 2018
Trump caused some controversy earlier in the week with remarks about how he didn’t understand the level of appreciation that rival Kyren Wilson was receiving considering the 26 year-old’s lack of acquired silverware.
Considering his own recent barren spell, it seemed like a brash thing to come out with but the former world number one has certainly backed it up with his displays this week.
With Trump, there’s perhaps unfairly a higher level of expectation considering the talent that he obviously possesses and the fact that he has been spoken of in high regard for the best part of two decades.
His trophy return is by no means a poor one but there’s still a sense that he has underachieved, especially in the Triple Crown events with only the UK Championship from seven years ago to his name.
Trump can head to the 2018 UK Championship next week brimming in confidence and it’ll be intriguing to see how this success can influence his form at the Barbican in York.
For now, though, he can revel in his return to the limelight, with £70,000 in his back pocket as the champion and the Alex Higgins Trophy raised aloft.
Trump said afterwards: “It feels amazing. I was very nervous in that last frame, I think it has been a long time since I’ve done anything.”
“I think I’ve had a bit of stick with everyone writing me off, underachieving and that, so it feels amazing to get another win.”
“I’ve always believed in myself but results here and there haven’t gone my way. I wasn’t looking forward to this tournament after how I did last year with going out in the first round but the fans have been amazing.”