The morning session of yesterday’s World Open final in Yushan, China, did not go well for Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. Facing World Champion Judd Trump, the world No22 was comprehensively outplayed. At the between-sessions break he was 7-2 down.
Un-Nooh, a 34-year-old Thai, is extremely talented but frustratingly mercurial. He conjures prodigious cue power from an elegant left-handed technique yet, despite having turned professional 10 years ago, has won only one ranking tournament, in February this year; but that was the Shoot-Out, a quick-fire competition consisting of one-frame-only matches played against the clock. Few players consider it worthy of ranking status and in truth they are right not to do so. If the World Championship at the Crucible is snooker’s equivalent of a Test Match at Lord’s, the Shoot-Out is its Twenty-20. Besides, it might have been made for Un-Nooh, whose average shot time is 16.7 seconds, which makes him the fastest player in the world.
Nonetheless, the World Open is a proper ranking tournament, and his journey to its final was impressive. He beat Zhang Yang, Craig Steadman, Sunny Akani, David Gilbert and Kyren Wilson, the latter two highly ranked players in good form (Gilbert No11; Wilson No9). But the achievement evidently exhausted him, for, when interviewed on Saturday night, he said he had been having trouble not only sleeping but also eating, and had lost 1.5kg. There are chubby, beery players on the tour who would gladly lose a pound of flesh, or indeed three, but Un-Nooh, whippet-thin, is not one of them. He looked wan – weak even – while watching Trump dish up frame after frame yesterday morning.
The evening session began badly for him too, for he started it in his chair, watching Trump go 8-2 up via a businesslike 64 break. The World Champion was looking formidable and it was clear that he intended to give Un-Nooh no quarter in his determination to polish off the two frames he needed for victory. But somehow, from somewhere, Theppy (as his friends call him) found strength enough to rally. Frame 11 was a cagey one, but he managed to win it; in frame 12 he made a winning 80 break; he won frame 13 easily, 105 points to eight. He was now just 8-5 behind.
Was Trump concerned? Did he falter? No, he did what all great players do, and he is undoubtedly a great player: he moved up a gear. Knowing that Un-Nooh was recovering, Trump crushed him with a 136 total clearance in frame 14 to go 9-5 up. The match was now effectively over, for Theppy was spent. Sure enough, as Trump began building a break in frame 15, then nonchalantly passed the snookers-required stage, the Thai waved his handkerchief aloft. He was raising the white flag, but Trump ignored him, winning frame and match with no smile and no mercy.