Judd Trump is ready to rule the world – and there's no Ronnie O'Sullivan to stop him. Having reached world No 1 for the first time last month, the 23-year-old Trump is well placed to dominate snooker in the absence of O'Sullivan, who has decided to sit out the remainder of the season for "personal reasons".
The loss of arguably the most talented player ever to pick up a cue has been bemoaned as a massive one for the sport. But with every departing crowd favourite other stars can burn more brightly and Trump feels he is ready to take up the four-time world champion's mantle, starting with a successful defence of the UK Championship, which starts this weekend in York.
"Now is the time to really come through and dominate," says Trump, who begins his title defence against qualifier Mark Joyce tomorrow afternoon. "To be honest, I've tried to forget Ronnie isn't playing this season. I've just concentrated on my own game and I've had a really good season so far. For whatever reason, Ronnie hasn't got any real motivation in snooker right now and wants to do other things in his life. I understand that and I hope he's happy. He's been brilliant for snooker, but whether he'll come back, who knows? I suppose it depends on how long he wants to carry on playing for. He's got nothing to prove, though. He's won all the big tournaments.
"It would be nice to [dominate], wouldn't it? There's lots of great players still, but I'm definitely a much better player now than I was a couple of years ago. I'm improving all the time. My safety game is up there with the top three or four players in the world, so I must be doing something right. I know my long-potting needs improving, but eventually it will all come together."
Trump's rise has been remarkable. It is just over 20 months since the player from Bristol won his first major ranking title, beating Mark Selby to lift the China Open in April last year.
Trump has won two titles this season and reached three other finals, helping him to become a box office draw. His style of play, however, has drawn criticism from some of his fellow professionals, who think he is reckless and brash. But brash or not, he can point to three major ranking titles and nearly £1m in prize-money and sponsorship deals. "I don't think I'll ever change the way I play – it's how I play that defines me," Trump says.
"A lot of players worry about how I play, but I never have. A lot of players try and change their game against me now, and I can tell straight away. When I'm sitting in my chair watching them I laugh to myself a little bit because it's playing right into my hands."
But the left-hander admits he is now under more pressure to succeed and is not naïve enough to think he is going to have things all his own way, especially since becoming only the 10th professional to reach the top of the world rankings with victory in the inaugural International Championship in China.
His lifestyle away from snooker has also drawn criticism, but he says it is not all fast cars and parties. Just fast cars. "If I win this year's tournament maybe I'll treat myself to a Lambo [Lamborghini]; I've always wanted one," Trump says. "I've still got my Ferrari, which I love driving. I've treated myself to nice things and treated my parents as well; they had a lovely holiday they've always wanted to go on. But I'm not being stupid with my money and I'm not out partying all the time like people think I am."
If people have misconceptions about what Trump likes to do in his free time, he leaves them in no doubt about his self-confidence. "I kind of expected to be [world] No 1 at my age, maybe even to have got there before because I never really broke through as early as I expected," he says. "It's a buzz winning tournaments and being the No 1, but it's up to me to maintain the standards I've shown over the last 18 months. I've got to keep producing.
"Of course, my main aim now is to try and win the World Championship. I got to the final a couple of years ago, but I wasn't ready then to win it. I feel I'm good enough now. However, I must admit it's hard to motivate yourself when you win a tournament and then go and play in one of the smaller events with hardly anyone watching. But I've had a really consistent season so far and just want to keep winning as many matches and tournaments as I can. I've been in a lot of finals and won a couple of tournaments, but I'd really love to defend my UK title.
"It's nice we've got the BBC events coming up. I always look forward to them because they've got a lot of prestige about them. I still feel I'm new to them all, though. I'd love to win the Masters, but I've not really played in it that much. The same goes for the UK [Championship].
"It was a great feeling winning the UK last season; I played well to beat Mark Allen in the final. To defend my title would be a great achievement, but there'll be quite a few players who'll fancy their chances this year, with Ronnie not playing."
Potted history: World Number Ones
* Judd Trump last month became just the 10th player to hold snooker's world No 1 spot since rankings began.
Ray Reardon (1975-81, 82-83)
Cliff Thorburn (1981-82)
Steve Davis (1983-90)
Stephen Hendry (1990-98, 2006-07)
John Higgins (1998-00, 07-08, 10, 10-11)
Mark Williams (2000-02, 03-04, 11)
Ronnie O'Sullivan (2002-03, 04-06, 08-10)
Neil Robertson (2010)
Mark Selby (2011-12)