Neil Robertson is not playing mind games when he tips Judd Trump as a future Crucible champion.
After all, Trump was priced up as a 10-1 shot to one day win the world title when he was just 14.
Trump had made his first in-competition 147 break by that stage, and after a couple of dicey years since turning pro the Bristolian is now looking the real deal.
However Australian Robertson is determined to prevent Trump spoiling his big moment on Saturday.
After 347 days, nine hours and six minutes as holder of snooker’s top prize, Robertson will walk out at 10am on day one to take on Trump in the first round of the Betfred.com World Championship. The moment he enters the arena as defending champ will be an experience surpassed only in his career by victory against Graeme Dott in last year’s final. Yet Trump, 21, showed by winning the China Open last weekend that he has talent in abundance.
He crushed Shaun Murphy and Peter Ebdon before edging Mark Selby 10-8 in the final. Robertson, 29, knows he’ll be tackling a player who represents snooker’s future.
“He’s got all the tools and the motivation and dedication” Robertson said. “I won my first world ranking event at 24, and he’s won his first at 21, so he’s on the right path. I think he’ll win the world title.”
The Crucible has seen many a first-time world champion suffer an opening-round defeat, with Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry among their number.
Robertson is relishing the moment he is called from backstage to enter the arena he left in glory last May. “It’s going to be an honour to walk out as the defending world champion,” he said. “After winning the world title, it’ll be the highlight of my career.” It could go awfully wrong though, with Robertson wary of his opponent.
Robertson admits: “Earlier on in my career I struggled for dedication and consistent practice, whereas he practises all through the year, even in summer. Last summer Ronnie O’Sullivan and I played an exhibition with him, and neither of us had played in a while but he was practising four hours a day. There aren’t too many players around his age that are competing for titles. When I was coming through there was myself, Murphy, Stephen Maguire, Ryan Day, Mark Selby, Ali Carter, and we had Hendry, Ronnie, John Higgins, Mark Williams, Ken Doherty and Ebdon to compete with.
“He’s got us to compete with, but there’s no-one around his age.”
Perhaps an era of dominance beckons for Trump, but Robertson starts as favourite for their match.