Snooker might just have found its saviour: one Judd Trump.
The 21-year-old Bristolian brought alive this season's World Championship with his fearless and, at times, breathtaking potting in Sheffield that led to comparisons with some of the game's greatest players down the years and, although the rising star faded in the latter part of the final, losing to John Higgins 18-15, there's little doubt he is here to stay.
Trump's sudden appearance – in the space of a month he has pocketed £185,000 in prize-money, come within a whisker of winning the Crucible title at only the second attempt and shot up to No 9 in the world rankings – could lead to a revival in interest in a game that had slipped from the sporting public consciousness since its glory days of the Eighties and Nineties, when colourful characters were in abundance.
The afternoon session of this year's final was watched by an average of two million people on the BBC (a 19.4 per cent share of the total viewing audience) and peaked at 2.5 million. Later in the evening, for the concluding session, an impressive 3.9 million tuned in to watch the drama unfold, with a 15.5 per cent share of the total viewing audience and a peak of 5.3 million: the highest audience since 2005 and a jump of nearly two million on last year's concluding session of the final.
Those figures were also probably helped by the final starting an hour earlier this year, with previous finals having dragged on until the early hours of the morning of a working day.
Viewing figures around the world were reported be in the region of 800 million and, with new ranking tournaments set to be staged next season in Australia and Brazil, and the sport growing in popularity in China, the audience is set to increase. Trump will only add to the momentum.
Ronnie O'Sullivan continues to fall in and out of love with snooker and has admitted he has hated the pressure of having been the sport's only drawcard for the past decade. Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Jimmy White are still competing and are all popular, but their best years are way behind them. It is to Trump the sport is now looking.
"Ronnie O'Sullivan is a genius at the snooker table," Davis said during the coverage of the final, "but I have to say this guy Judd Trump is making my jaw drop more than anyone I have ever seen." Fellow former champion John Parrott added that he believes it is only a matter of time before Trump wins the World Championship.
It's a lot of pressure for a youngster but Trump, a level-headed and pleasant man, who even found the humour to crack a joke in his post-match interview, seems more likely to cope than most. "Next year there is going to be a lot of expectation on me," he admitted. "There will be a lot of players who will want to bring me back down to earth and beat me. When I came here [to Sheffield] I was nobody, really. Now every time I go into a restaurant or walk down the street, everybody seems to notice me and wish me luck. It's brilliant and the way I want it to be. But that's only going to continue if I keep winning matches and playing the way I am.
"I've tried to make the game more popular with the younger people. There are a lot of people who haven't really watched snooker much and have started watching because of me in these last two weeks, so I've got to keep doing my thing and keep a new generation coming through and making kids want to play the game."
Wise words for someone so young and a refreshing change from O'Sullivan's continual threats to retire.
Trump led 10-7 at one stage in the final but lost five frames in a row to hand the advantage to Higgins. Many players would have crumbled but Trump kept fighting back and even at 17-15 had a chance to win the frame and extend the match. However, a missed pink finally handed the initiative to Higgins. The Scot, winning his fourth world title, was full of praise for Trump, calling him a "sensation" and saying that he had deserved to win the final.
Higgins was not alone in being impressed. "The fact that Judd has arrived on the scene is very positive news for the sport," Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker, said yesterday. "We are constantly looking for flag-bearers to demonstrate that there is this brave new world out there, and that it isn't just hot air.
"And Judd is a representative of probably a dozen top young players coming through the system. He is an inspiration to them. He's the one that shows you can do it.
"It's all very well hoping you can be a great player and get to a Crucible final, but you've got to get out there and perform. There are two different markets for snooker. There is the UK market, which is solid, but not exciting me at the moment. Then there is the global market, which is exceeding my expectations many times over. For both of those I need new, exciting talent that entertains people, and Trump is that."
Trump is a household name after his Crucible efforts and his trademark spiky hair and boy-band looks haven't gone unnoticed with a growing army of female admirers. "If I had to write down my identikit player for that job, I'd be describing Judd Trump," added Hearn. "He's young, got the hairstyle, an inspirational figure, motivates young people, widens the audience, and entertains the crowd.
"He brings a sparkle to the game, you saw the ovation that both players got on Monday night – they could hardly believe their eyes and ears. We will live and die by ratings. We need new characters, and Judd fits the bill."Reuse content