The natural order of things was restored – for now – to a wildly unpredictable snooker season at the Turkish Masters when Judd Trump ended a year-long wait for a ranking title with victory in Antalya.
Trump was superb on Sunday night, delighting fans with a maximum break as he beat Matt Selt 10-4. It was a glorious finish to snooker’s first foray to Turkey and the best Trump has played all season.
His success followed three weeks of high drama in which a 21 year-old newcomer, Fan Zhengyi, and 47 year-old veteran, Joe Perry, won the European Masters and Welsh Open respectively. Neither had done anything leading into each event to suggest they could come anywhere near either trophy.
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And although Trump may have triumphed in Turkey, shocks once again abounded during the event. At the start of the last 16 there were just three members of the elite top 16 still going (though three were absent from the field).
Neil Robertson has proven to be reliable during the campaign, winning three titles, but otherwise it has been the most open season in years. Zhao Xintong, a 24 year-old from China, began the wave of shocks by sensationally landing the UK Championship title, beating Luca Brecel in the final. Brecel had fallen from 11th in the world to the mid-40s in three years but underlined his resurgence by immediately winning the Scottish Open after his defeat to Zhao.

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The victories of Fan and Perry were inexplicable in terms of form. Fan had not been to a ranking event quarter-final until the German Masters the previous month and Perry had fallen away so badly that he was contemplating what he would do if he was relegated from the tour.
But both proved a simple maxim to be correct: the player who produces the best standard during the week usually wins the title. Fan beat Kyren Wilson, Yan Bingtao and Ronnie O’Sullivan in Milton Keynes. Perry made seven centuries in defeating Mark Allen, Wilson, Jack Lisowski and Trump in Newport.
This season, six of the 13 ranking events played so far have been won by players ranked outside the top 16 at the time. There have been four first-time winners. The formbook has been tossed in the river.
So what’s going on? The truth is, there is greater strength in depth in the sport now than ever. Players lower down the rankings are capable of producing an excellent standard, whereas in years gone by many of them were making up the numbers.
Today’s world No. 50 would have been pushing for a top 16 place 30 years ago. There is a general narrowing of the gap between the top players not quite at their best and the rank and file members of the tour who, through regular tournament play, are sharp, hungry and increasingly fearless.
Maybe a year of behind closed doors snooker played a part. Being trapped in the Milton Keynes bubble was a great leveller. There were no stars here. Multi-world champions and tour rookies were in the same boat, forced to spend long hours in their rooms and observing the Covid protocols around the venue. Your ranking did not grant you any special treatment. Everyone had their nose swabbed. Everyone wore a wristband. Everyone scanned the daily QR code to fill in the annoying compliance form.

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It was assumed that without crowds there would be less pressure and therefore more shock winners. In fact, there was only one – Jordan Brown at last year’s Welsh Open.
If anything, when audiences returned it served as a reminder of the high stakes nature of professional sport. It added a layer of pressure to matches and the top players have at times struggled to readjust.
Mark Selby has had well documented off-table problems. The holy trinity of O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams have all come good at times but are starting to lack consistency, their performances varying from week to week.
Trump has struggled to back up three superb years, losing confidence early in the campaign and only regaining it of late.
Wilson keeps challenging for titles without quite landing any, ditto Barry Hawkins. Allen has faded somewhat after his emotional Belfast triumph last October. The likes of Stephen Maguire, Stuart Bingham and Anthony McGill have barely been sighted. Lisowski continues to knock on the door without it opening.
What does all of this mean for snooker’s oldest and biggest event? The World Championship will be with us next month. In the last 40 years, Joe Johnson (1986), Shaun Murphy (2005) and Graeme Dott (2006) won their maiden ranking titles at the Crucible. It could be argued that Bingham’s triumph in 2015 was something of a surprise but, otherwise, there has been logic to every winner.
Logic this year suggests Robertson should start favourite, but his recent Crucible appearances have followed a familiar pattern: great form coming in, a couple of dazzling early round performances and then a less positive display leading to defeat in the quarter-finals. This has been the Australian’s fate for the last three years, where Higgins, Selby and Wilson have done for him in the last eight. He hasn’t reached the semi-finals since 2014.
Trump will go to Sheffield with renewed confidence having found his best game after several months of searching. But he will have to maintain it session after session, day after day.
The last qualifier to win the world title was Murphy 17 years ago. There will be some big beasts in this year’s qualifying stage: Maguire, Ding Junhui, Ali Carter, Perry, Fan, Hossein Vafaei and many others. Top 16 seeds not on their game will be vulnerable in round one.
Someone has to win it, but the way this season has gone there is every chance it will be a player not even mentioned in this article.
At the moment, reputations are less important than who can produce the goods in any given week. A contagion of upsets this season has left the World Championship wide open. It could make the 17-day Crucible marathon more compelling than ever.
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