If you had bought tickets for the evening session of yesterday’s 2019 Masters final, you would have been feeling chuffed when you woke up yesterday morning, because the match you were about to watch was to be played by 43-year-old Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most charismatically successful player in the history of the sport, and 29-year-old Judd Trump, who may have acquired that soubriquet by the time he puts away his cue for the last time in about 2035.
But by tea-time you would have been feeling rather less chipper, because Trump had romped to a 7-1 lead in the afternoon, leaving himself just three frames to win in the evening to become Masters champion. He achieved that in 105 minutes, which must have been an unanticipated boon to the restaurateurs and publicans of London N22, but would have disappointed the snooker fans who were unexpectedly able to eat and drink in those establishments.
What happened? Well, those 105 minutes consisted of six frames, which the players shared 3-3. So the match was won in the afternoon session, which Trump had dominated. He performed well – but O’Sullivan played appallingly. He failed to pot a ball during the first two frames, and in the next two he never looked like stringing a break together. His safety play was loose – he often left the cue ball nowhere near the baulk cushion – and he missed a red into the left middle that was so easy, an almost-straight dolly from close range, that the audience gasped as though they had seen a ghost. In a sense they had: there was something almost eerily bad about O’Sullivan’s play in those first four frames, and he looked haunted by it.
After the mini-break he returned slightly improved, and won the first frame to make it 4-1. Then, in frame six, O’Sullivan played a good safety shot, but Trump went for an extremely tricky red that every other player in the game would probably have refused – and potted it. He then fired in a rapid 66 break to win the frame: 5-1.
He banged in two 40-something breaks in frame seven – 6-1 – then won frame eight too. And the rest you know about.
Quite why O’Sullivan played so badly is unknown and, I suppose, unknowable. He had beaten world No8 Ding Junhui comfortably in Saturday’s semi-final, 6-3, had beaten world No13 Ryan Day by the same score in the quarters, and had thrashed world No12 Stuart Bingham 6-2 in the first round. He had looked fluent and confident in all those matches. Was he tired yesterday? Perhaps, but what he lacked was consistency, a quality that Trump oozed all day. Indeed, in winning 10 frames against the Rocket, Trump never scored a century; in winning four frames against the Juddernaut, O’Sullivan scored two. But the 50-break scorecard was more telling, reading 8-1 in Trump’s favour.
Trump had never appeared in a Masters final before, whereas it was O’Sullivan’s 13th such appearance – and his heaviest defeat.