Joe ‘The Gentleman’ Perry ran into a spot of bother last weekend when he innocently suggested that green baize action man Judd Trump has taken snooker onto another level, performing shots Ronnie O’Sullivan or Stephen Hendry could only dream about.
“We’ve had eras in snooker when people thinking it can’t get any better than this,” said Perry during the Gibraltar Open, scene of Trump’s sixth and record-breaking ranking victory of the season that hoisted him into a league of his own.
“We had it with Hendry, we had it with Ronnie, and I honestly think he’s taken it to the next level.
He’s now got the blend of safety, but he’s got the one thing that them two never had, and that’s unbelievable cue power. He’s got such a vast array of shots that they could never play.
Ever the gentleman, the former Masters finalist Perry later took to Twitter to clarify his comments, pointing out that O’Sullivan was still the greatest in his opinion.
“I didn’t say he was better,” tweeted Perry, naturally in a gentlemanly manner. “I think Ronnie is the best by a mile!”
Perry probably wanted to extract the heat from what can become a very tribal debate, but wherever you stand on levels, he is right in his assertion that Trump, undisputed world champion and world number one, is providing snooker with a level of consistency that has not been witnessed for a long time. If not the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), he's GOTT (Greatest of This Time) it going on.
It used to be said that putting money on Steve Davis in the 1980s or Hendry in the 1990s was almost like buying money. If you punted heavily on the 'Golden Nugget' or the 'Wonder Bairn' you knew you would be collecting in an almost risk averse manner such was their addiction to winning. Backing either man in their pomp was like opening a snooker savings account.
You could never say the same about O’Sullivan because you could never be sure if or when he would be fully committed to the job at hand. Which is part of the reason players like Rocket Ronnie and Alex Higgins are feted, followed and fawned over by the British public's curious passion for a maverick.
Trump is beginning to develop an aura of Hendry. In a sport that many commentators claim is impossible for one man to dominate, the Bristolian is making a pretty good fist of it.
He has enjoyed a quite staggering 18 months as the sport’s leading figure.
Starting by winning the Northern Ireland Open in November 2018, Trump claimed the Masters in January 2019, the World Grand Prix in February 2019 and the World Championship in May 2019.
He has picked up from where he left off after demolishing John Higgins 18-9 in the world final winning the International Championship in August 2019, the World Open and the Northern Ireland Open in November 2019, the German Masters in February 2020 and the Players Championship and Gibraltar Open in March 2020. No other man has carted off six ranking events in a solitary campaign. There may be more opportunities these days, but the sport's standard has equally never been more daunting.
Trump was due to compete at The Tour Championship in Llandudno, a tournament postponed until July due to the coronavirus pandemic, earlier this week having trousered £828,100 so far (£978,100 if you want to throw in his £150,000 bonus tranche after Gibraltar). It comes a season after becoming the first man in the history of the game to clear £1m in a single season.
Six-times world champion Davis once said diplomatically that O’Sullivan was snooker’s greatest player while Hendry was the greatest winner.
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Trump appears to marry the best of most men. He arguably has the talent of O’Sullivan and the application of Hendry.
Trump is not only setting new benchmarks, he is in hot pursuit of the records set by seven-times world champion Hendry and O’Sullivan, a five-times winner. At the age of 30, he has made 712 centuries. O’Sullivan (1038), John Higgins (778) and Hendry (772) are ahead of Trump, but he has 14 years on O’Sullivan and Higgins while Hendry has retired.
If snooker’s is becoming an older chap’s workplace, Trump is merely at the foothills of his ambition. He has an all-round game that Hendry preferred not to fraternise with, and a level of concentration that arguably otherwise eluded O’Sullivan whenever the mood took him to conquer other lands beyond Essex.
His record six ranking events lifted this season has catapulted him onto 17 which is 19 behind O’Sullivan and Hendry’s joint record haul of 36. If he continues on his current trajectory, and remains fit and healthy, he could be near that mark by his mid-30s with more to come.
Watch the moment Trump wins Gibraltar Open to make snooker history
If O’Sullivan had managed that consistency like Trump, he would have been further clear, but he hasn’t, and the records are there for Trump to be potted at.
When asked if Trump was like O’Sullivan after watching Trump produced an exhibition of breathless, incomparable snooker, including seven centuries, in lifting his first world title in the final, Higgins said that: “He doesn’t just overwhelm the opponent, he overwhelms the snooker table. I don’t think there’s been quite a player like him.”
There will be no World Championship for Trump to defend next month, a cruel and perhaps temporary twist on the Crucible Curse that dictates no maiden winner has successfully defended the trophy a year later in Sheffield, but he holds the key to the matrix. This is but merely a trifling period of hibernation in Trump's longing for the hallowed ground. At the moment, he is in quite splendid isolation.