World number one Judd Trump chats to Oli Bell about his hopes for the future of snooker, and what it's really like facing Ronnie O'Sullivan on the table.
"My Dad was always a big snooker fan when he was younger. He always used to watch on TV and he used to play every week, not to a good standard, but he used to enjoy it, playing with his brothers and his friends. I started playing pool when they got a table in my house – there wasn’t enough room to get around it but we started playing certain shots from a real young age. I think I was maybe three or four then and when I was five I was playing in pool competitions and started winning some of them. I think he knew from an early age that I had something special and then I started playing snooker at around six years of age. From the age of seven or eight I started playing in a lot of competitions around the country and when I was 10 years old, I won the national under 15’s. At that point, we thought that if I kept it up and put the work in, I could be something special in the future."
“Around 12 or 13 was when I knew I wanted to play snooker full-time and I knew I was good enough if I kept putting the work in, putting the hours in and staying dedicated. As a junior player I was winning everything and there wasn’t that much competition, but when I first turned professional at 16 years of age I lost my opening two games. There was only six tournaments in a season back then so I only had four more tournaments to save my season. It hit me hard, I didn’t really expect it. There were certain players I’d watch on the TV and they were good, but you expect to beat them and these different scenarios played out in your your head. You watch on the TV and the pockets look massive, and when you turn professional you realise that they’re not, and I had to learn quickly. I managed to stay on the tour that year and built on it from then, but it took me a while to really get through on to the TV and into the public eye. It took me four or five years and looking back now, it was probably a blessing that I didn’t run through it straight away and I learnt plenty from that period.”
“I spend a lot of my time watching a lot of other sports. I understand what everyone is going though when they’re at that top level so I like to see how they react, their emotions and see how they deal with disappointments. There’s always other things you can learn, even if it’s not the same sport, from how people deal with things and prepare."
“It took me a while to win all the big events – the World Championship and so on – whereas when I was younger it felt as if it was going to go on forever. You kind of take it for granted when you win, as if it’s going to happen every year, but it doesn’t work like that. Having a lot of my success at an older age, and going long periods without winning events and knowing that you’ve got to put the work in, it really taught me a lot and I’m just grateful for the success I’ve had over the past couple of years. I’ve really put the work in off the table, got my mind right, and tried to enjoy it without putting too much pressure on myself. I know how good I can be in practice and when I was putting that pressure on myself to play like I do in practice, sometimes it didn't work. Now I’ve shown everyone what I can do, and shown everyone that I can compete with the best when they’re playing their best, I’ve just learnt to enjoy it a lot more and concentrate on my own game. I think that’s reflected in my results.”
“I think the more you win, it definitely has an effect on the opponent. There have been times over the past couple of years when I’ve not played amazing and players have had a great chance to get over the line and beat me, but just that expectation of knowing that if they miss, I’ll clear up, has helped me get over the line. Winning breeds winning, the same as losing."
“My record is pretty good against Ronnie. Whenever there is a crowd in town – it hasn’t been the same for the last 18 months – you want to play Ronnie because the atmosphere is different class and everyone gets behind him. For me, that spurs me on to go out there and shine and take away his fans. I know it’s going to be a bigger audience when Ronnie’s around, so for me it’s an extra chance to show what I can do. It’s completely different to playing anyone else. If you’re playing any other player, you just play your own game, but when you’re playing him, it’s like you’re playing in his show. He really feels like he owns the table and it can be quite difficult to play against. His mannerisms and everything, he's quite in your face; it’s not like a game of snooker, there’s a bit of argy-bargy and mind games going on at the same time. It’s a massive match-up."
“Probably Ronnie and John Higgins. Just the way they go around, the way they break-build, the way they make their breaks. John is probably the most level-headed, he never seems to lose his cool, and just having that belief under pressure is something I really admire. Ronnie is very up and down, but to be fair, he’s never had a bad word to say about me and visa versa. He’s certainly the most natural player the game has ever seen. He’s completely different to me, but on the table he’s a joy to play against."
“I think there is a good standard. Anyone in the top 100 is very dangerous on their day, and I didn’t agree at all with what he [Ronnie] said. The standard is as high as ever. Any player on their day can beat you, whereas if you look at other sports, the top players breeze through the early rounds, but snooker isn’t really like that. The competition is so fierce nowadays. A lot of these players still at the top – Mark Williams, John Higgins and Ronnie – are the three best players of all time. Maybe they play down their achievements a little bit but they are always going to be around or do what they want. It’s not that the talent coming through is no good, it’s just a generational change in all sport in that you’re able to go on a little bit longer."
“I’m trying to put it back on the map and appeal to younger people. In the past five or ten years it’s been lost with the people it’s being aimed at – specifically older people – and I’m just trying to make it little bit cooler and bring that passion of mind back into the younger generation of today. A lot of the top players don’t look like they’re enjoying it and I think that can rub off on other people. For me, it’s important to have fun out there. You’re obviously trying to win all the time, but it’s important for me to look like I'm enjoying myself and play shots that the local players can resonate with and go down the club and try and play next week. I don’t think what we wear for snooker is cool, and I certainly know the younger generation don’t want to be stuck wearing a suit nowadays. But the people running the game are a little bit behind on that. In golf, if you look at their outfits from 40 or 50 years ago, they don’t wear that anymore. Nowadays, you’ve got Rory McIlroy wearing hoodies because you have to move on with the times.”