Sunday, 25 March 2012

Back in China

Returning to Beijing for next week's China open evokes fond memories of Judd Trump's breakthrough event a year ago.

Picture by Monique Limbos
It's difficult to believe that just 12 months ago the Bristolian was yet to carve his name on a major ranking event trophy - and many were beginning to question whether he'd ever go on to fulfil his undoubted potential.

His 10-8 victory against Mark Selby in last year's final was to kick-start what has been a super year for the attacking 22-year-old.

A year down the line, he's been to the World Championship final, has lifted the UK Championship title, played in a Masters semi-final, has won another two PTCs and is up to number three in the world rankings.

It's been quite the meteoric rise. We've seen Trump blossom into one of the sport's leading lights. In fact, he's gone full circle over the past year.

From a player who was rubbished as hype, he's gone on to being talked up as the single most exciting player in the modern game then onto being proclaimed as the man who could go on to dominate the game.

Now, he goes into most major events among the favourites but is not immune from critics. Unfortunately, this is part and parcel as life as a top player and, fortunately, he has achieved that status in a very short period of time.

No-one can deny Trump is still a wonderful player capable of beating anyone yet fans and his rivals on the table have come to question his sometimes gung-ho shot selection and the way he enjoys a somewhat celebrity lifestyle off the baize.

Luckily for Judd, he doesn't appear to be the kind of person at all bothered by what over people say and thick skin is an important ingredient for anyone within the public eye. And as for the way he plays the game, time is on his side. He still has years ahead of him to mature further as a player plus, his natural game has given him such success already, he may argue whether it even needs to change at all.

That said, it's important Trump continues to faces new tests, and another comes in Beijing. Judd goes into this event as the defending champion. This is new territory but it will help he's got used to being the player most want to beat all-season long anyway.

He'll also have to deal with the pressure he'll be putting on himself to hit top form. It doesn't take a genius to work out Judd has unfinished business at the Crucible. He's desperate to be world champion, as is every top player. But after coming so close last season and dazzling the Sheffield crowds from start to finish, the expectation rested on his shoulders will be huge. This is in contrast to last year where the pressure was off.

He knows from a year ago just how important a strong performance in China can make to how you go into the big one, the World Championship.

It's not all about Trump this week, of course. I'm also going to have a careful eye on the defending world champion, John Higgins.

He's lost his thread a little this season and the only explanation I can offer for this is that last year he was motivated by previous controversies and saddening news in his personal life.

While it's often important to be settled off the table to enjoy success on it, perhaps Higgins was driven by needing to answer his critics and bounce back from his disappointments.

Higgins has looked flat this season and has yet to produce his battling best. He should never be written off though. Last year he spoke about wanting to build on his four world titles. This is more important to him than anything else in the game and maybe his determination to do this will see him come back into the reckoning in China.

As usual, there are plenty of other sub-plots to this event. Everyone has an eye on the Crucible. We've seen in the past that success in China does not assure the same in Sheffield but the players will be desperate to find their rhythm.

I've been listening to various early tips for the World Championship and it will be interesting to see how they perform in China. Mark Allen returns to Asia fresh from his recent success at the World Open and I assume hungry for more. Stephen Maguire has stepped his game up to such an extent people are saying he's due a title again soon. He'd like that to be in Sheffield but wouldn't sniff at success in Beijing.

Elsewhere among the title challengers, Mark Williams falls into the Higgins bracket. He hasn't had his best season compared to his unbelievably high expectations. But he's done well abroad in the past and is the kind of big player who can lift his game ready for the big one.

Ding Junhui is the home hope and playing well enough. Shaun Murphy will be refreshed after missing the PTC Grand Finals in Ireland and has shown glimpses of form as good as he's been in for two to three years. Stephen Lee is far and away the form man though. 

Neil Robertson is many people's top tip for the World Championship, with his game in as good shape as it's ever been. He's been extremely consistent this season and he's well equipped to win any title after admitting he's preparing better for Sheffield than he did a year ago. World number one Mark Selby hasn't won a major trophy since the Shanghai Masters but has the matchplay attributes to go all the way at the business-end of the season.

Then there's the eternal guessing game that is Ronnie O'Sullivan. He withdrew from the recent PTC Grand Finals in Galway

As for the qualifiers to watch, it's great to see Jimmy White travelling to another venue. Then there's Jamie Jones. He's worked ever so hard this season and deserves his place. Ben Woollaston has impressed in the PTCs and gets his chance to have a go at a bigger venue.

There is plenty to look forward to before this tournament and I'm sure even more will unfold when the curtain comes down.

Trips to China are becoming more and more regular in snooker and they have a special feel of their own. This is the final stop-off here of the season. Another warm welcome is certain for the players and hopefully they won't return the favour with more moans and groans.

My advice to the China-haters would be to get out of their hotel room and embrace the culture. They might even enjoy it.

Bring on the snooker.

Full first round draw:

Judd Trump v Jimmy White or wildcard
Stuart Bingham v Joe Perry
Stephen Lee v Tom Ford
Graeme Dott v Mark King or wildcard
Stephen Maguire v Barry Hawkins
Mark Allen v Ricky Walden
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marcus Campbell
Mark Williams v Fergal O'Brien or wildcard
Mark Selby v Michael Holt or wildcard
Ding Junhui v Ben Woollaston or wildcard
Ali Carter v Dominic Dale
Shaun Murphy v Jamie Jones or wildcard
Neil Robertson v Jamie Cope
Martin Gould v Stephen Hendry
Matthew Stevens v Peter Ebdon or wildcard
John Higgins v Rory McLeod or wildcard

No comments:

Post a Comment