Judd Trump has imagined becoming world champion, but daring to dream can be dangerous in snooker. Especially when a bloke as formidable as John Higgins stands between you and a little slice of sporting nirvana.
Trump has the talent, technique, break-building ability, voracious appetite for long pots and self-belief to lift the famous old pot with the silver lady on top of it.
It would be the cherry on top of a burgeoning career that began in 2005, but it is more difficult turning fantasy into reality when you are operating in such a dog-eat-dog environment.
You don't need to do much wrong to finish second in snooker especially in these taut yearly finals at the Crucible Theatre. Higgins, champion in 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011, knows the feeling. He has lost the past two finals to Mark Selby and Mark Williams.
John higgins and Judd Trump in the 2011 final
Image credit: Reuters
Trump, Jimmy White and Ding Junhui are arguably the three greatest players never to have won the world title. The Bristolian would like to leave that group behind on Monday evening when his latest joust with Higgins reaches its denouement.
It is astonishing to think Trump has not been back to the final since losing to Higgins 18-15 in 2011. He has lost semi-finals to Ronnie O’Sullivan in 2013 and Stuart Bingham in 2015 here. Both of his opponents were champions that year.
Snooker is the school of hard knocks, or perhaps hard kicks. Trump has experienced it all at the Crucible apart from carrying off the trophy.
“I can’t really remember much from 2011,” Trump told Eurosport. “I can remember thinking I’m going to pot everything I go for which is not the case any more.
I’d love to have that feeling again, but I was obviously super confident back then. I didn’t really have a safety game which is a little bit different from nowadays.
“I think whenever I’ve played John, even though my record isn’t that great against him, I’ve always played solid, good stuff because you can appreciate how good he is and you know you’ve always got to up your game against him.
“I now know when I’m not playing well that I need and am able to shut down and scrape away the way Mark Selby or John Higgins would, and not give anything away.
“You don’t want to be losing sessions heavily. You don’t want to lose 6-2 or 7-1 in a session. That is chucking it away. So I’ll try not do that in the final. I think I have to stay with him, and just enjoy it.
“I’ve got the family and a lot of friends up. They’re more excited than I am. I’ve had a lot of support out there which I think you need in the World Championship because it is so mentally draining over four sessions."
Trump ousted defending champion Neil Robertson in the opening round on his way to the final in 2011. It was a tournament watched at some point by half the population of the UK.
He was only 21 at the time. If he wins here for a first time, he will do so on the cusp of turning 30 in August. It would be a timely moment to become the man on the green baize.
Ronnie O'Sullivan tips Judd Trump to win the World Snooker Championship
“When you are younger, you think it easy and it is going to come every single year,” said Trump. “Obviously the period I haven’t been in the final makes me appreciate how difficult it is.
"I think of other top players, Ronnie hasn’t come close in the past few years, and Neil hasn’t been in the final since he won it.
“I’m under no illusion how hard it is. Just to get back there is unbelievable. I have one final hurdle, and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Trump believes Higgins is the greatest player in history at coping with pressure at the Crucible. This is the Scotsman’s eighth appearance in a world final after recovering from 14-11 behind to edge out David Gilbert 17-16 in an epic semi-final on Saturday evening.
In career meetings, Higgins leads 13-7, winning their previous four meetings. At the age of 43, Trump believes he has lost none of his staying power.
'There's no way he's gone for that!' - Amazing long red from Higgins
“I seen bits and pieces of his win in the semis," said Trump.
Just his belief under pressure is better than anyone by far. I think better than anybody who has ever played the game. He can always rely on his game to stand up under pressure. You need to get it over and done with before it gets to that.
Trump lifted the UK Championship in 2011 and the Masters this year. Winning the World Championship would be the finishing touches to a lifetime’s ambition. He would also become the first player in a season to earn over £1m in prize money if he snares the £500,000 first prize.
“I don’t think it’s possible to stay at the level that helped me win the Masters. I don’t think it is possible to do that,” he points out. “There are just too many matches, too many sessions. You are going to get a lot of bad spells.
“I think in spells I’ve played well. The start against Stephen Maguire (13-6) helped me put that match to bed quite early and to come back against Ding Junhui (13-9) from trailing 9-7 was good.
“Other than that, it’s been bits and pieces, good for a couple of frames then missing a couple of easy balls, but I think you are going to get that at the World Championship.”
‘You need guts to play it’ – Trump produces gutsy plant in semi-final
Trump was facing certain defeat when he pulled out an audacious cross double on a red against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in a 10-9 win the first round. The player nicknamed The Ace In The Park went all in.
“In the past, there have been a lot of people in that kind of losing position. You get relief getting through, and then you can relax a bit,” said Trump. “Things hopefully happen after that. So hopefully I go on and lift the trophy. “
Perhaps Trump’s name is finally on the trophy this year, but it is not destiny that will deliver it. If he finally makes good on his early promise, it will be all down to an unerring commitment to his vocation in life.