Judd Trump: Rising star aims to give champion wake-up call

'The next O'Sullivan' is in fine form and could cause Neil Robertson some lost sleep ahead of their Crucible match, he tells Neil Goulding
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The Independent Online

The laid-back Australian world champion Neil Robertson has had numerous problems getting out of bed and to tournaments on time this season, causing him to rush to venues half-dressed and underprepared. He may want to make sure he retires early tomorrow because on Saturday at the Crucible he faces Judd Trump – dubbed the next Ronnie O'Sullivan. If Trump is truly as talented as one of the world's greatest players Robertson will need shut-eye aplenty.

The 21-year-old from Bristol, who won the World Under-21 Championship aged just 14, is the game's rising star and may be the one to take the place of the fading O'Sullivan, now ranked No 10 in the world, as the crowd-puller over the coming years. It would be a start if he can knock out the holder in the first round of the World Championships, which start this weekend, and a dream if he is the one to claim the £250,000 first prize.

Form says the aggressive left-hander has a chance – he won the China Open, his first major ranking title since turning professional six years ago, earlier this month, beating Mark Selby in the final and former world champions Shaun Murphy and Peter Ebdon en route to the £60,000 winner's cheque.

"With Ronnie [and others] dropping down the rankings I feel as though there are spaces becoming available for new players to take their mantle," Trump said this week in London. "Stephen Hendry has dropped down the ranking as well, but Ronnie's not had a great year by his high standards and it's time for me and a few of the other players to step up. I want to take one of their places and become a regular tournament winner rather than somebody with a little bit of talent who might win things in the future.

"Ronnie's had a brilliant career, but he's not going to be around for ever. John Higgins is a similar age to Ronnie and he's been the player to beat this season. But whether Ronnie wants to work at the game like he did maybe 10 or 15 years ago, who knows? He might not have that dedication anymore."

Trump should know as he has been practising with the three-times world champion since he moved from Bristol to Essex last year and joined the Grove Club in Romford where he also plays against seasoned professionals Mark King and Stuart Bingham. The former English junior champion believes his game has come on leaps and bounds, having had the chance to practise with O'Sullivan. "It's been good playing him, I've learnt a hell of a lot. He's so knowledgeable on the game and, despite what he says, he practises really hard and he knows he needs to practise. He's so talented, but that doesn't really count for everything because everyone at the top of the game practises really hard."

Trump, nicknamed "Haircut 100" for his boy band-esque spikes, is more likely to make an impact at Sheffield than O'Sullivan, who has not won a first-round ranking match for more than seven months, and has been distracted by problems away from the table. There is the ongoing custody battle over his daughter Lily Jo and his son Ronnie, and the release of his father, Ronnie senior, from prison earlier this year following a conviction for murder.

But Trump feels he can still have a say. "He dominates when he plays well," he says, "but I think there's so much pressure on him to go and produce it every time. I think he's got to the point where he doesn't enjoy it as much as he used too. I don't think he likes the pressure as much as he once did, but nobody knows with Ronnie what he's going to do. He could still go into this World Championship, drop five frames and then knock in 25 centuries and win the tournament."

For now though the talk at the Crucible could be of Trump after his win in China. But despite being only 21 he feels the win is overdue. "I feel that I've underachieved," Trump says. "I knew [when I was a teenager] that I had the potential to go out and win a lot of tournaments, but it's taken me a little bit longer than I thought to get that first one. But now that I've finally won it, hopefully I can kick-start my career and go into every tournament knowing that I can win it rather than going into it worried that I'm not going to play very well.

"It's a different mindset. People might look at my record and think I've not won a great deal of matches on TV and that they've got nothing to be afraid of, but people will now be thinking they've got to play well against me every time. Winning a title does make other players notice you because they all know how hard it is. Now there's going to be that little bit of doubt in their mind that if they miss I could clear up and win the match."

So can Trump, whose parents have never been on a foreign holiday because they chose instead to finance his career, get the better of the champion?

"Neil's going to enjoy the pressure of trying to defend the title," Trump says. "It won't matter to him that recent defending champions have not done well at the Crucible. He could win it again. But obviously I've got to try and stop that.

"It's going to be tough for him because he might have thought he'd have an easy game before I won the China Open. Now he knows he's in for a match. There's pressure on us both as a lot is expected from both of us. The first session is crucial. Whoever starts well is probably going to play well all day – we're both attacking so it should be a great match.

"But hopefully his alarm doesn't go off and I go 7-0 up." Trump that.