Judd Trump breathed a huge sigh of relief after just falling over the line in a classic and thrilling Crucible Theatre semi-final against Mark Williams in the deciding frame on Saturday night to reach the final of the Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.
The ‘Juddernaut’, looking for a second world title in four years, had been the odd man out in the last four of the blue-riband tournament - in amongst the three ‘Class of 1992’ legends of the sport in Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, and observing wryly before the match that he felt as if had strayed into a convention for the elderly.
Williams, 47, and a three-time world champion, was bidding to became the oldest player to reach the final since Ray Reardon lost to Alex Higgins in 1982 at the age of 49 – but that looked a distant dream when he found himself 12-5 adrift on Friday night in the third session of four.
That deficit meant that is world No8 Williams could have somehow emerged the victor it would have been the greatest Crucible semi-final comeback in history – and he came so close, taking the lead for the first time in the match at 16-15 only to miss a blue in the decider and see his rival Trump. 32, somehow close it out for a 17-16 win.
Along the way Williams equalled seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry’s record tally of 16 century breaks in the tournament including four more in this match. But a shattered and dazed Trump found something from deep inside to level at 16-16 to force the decider, and then shortly afterwards edge through.
Though he has been by a distance the outstanding player of the last five years, world No4 Trump has not been at his fluent best this season - despite picking up wins at the Champion of Champions and the Turkish Masters, where he made a 147 in the final in Antalya.
Trump came into the blue-riband event playing down his chances of a second world title and trying to load the pressure on others – and having survived this battering from Williams he will now hope to produce his A-game in the final, much as he did when thrashing Higgins in the 2019 final.
Trump puffed out his cheeks after rolling in the match-clinching blue, and could barely raise an arm in celebration. He said: “There were so many emotions in that game, and I think it is the best win of my career.
“At one stage it looked like I might win easy – and then Mark started playing incredibly well and I was enjoying watching him. I had all my luck in the last frame, I was sort of going for the cross doubles but there is luck there and for two to go in, you know it’s your day. But as the tournament has gone on I have felt better and better.”
Williams said: “The first session it looked as if Judd would run away with it but I hung in there – and it was an incredible match and occasion, one of the best I have ever experienced.
“Unfortunately it is another decider I have lost and there have been a couple this season. But every credit to Judd, he got a couple of cross doubles in the decider and if he meant those, then fair play to him.”
As the match finished yesterday in such thrilling fashion it was easy to forget the opening-session issues with the playing conditions with Williams unhappy that the newly installed table for the semi-finals was not running true.
The Welshman struggled to shrug off those doubts in the first two sessions that left him six frames back and it was only falling 12-5 behind that the world No8 swiftly moved up through the gears to ensure firstly the semi-final went the distance, and then became a contest of epic proportions.
Williams resumed in the afternoon just 13-11, and despite losing the first of the day had levelled at 14-14 by the mid-session interval including a break of 137, his 15th of the tournament.
That left him one behind the all-time Crucible record of 16 century breaks set by Scot and good friend Hendry when he finished runner-up to Peter Ebdon in 2002 – and after falling 15-14 down in the 30th frame Williams promptly made another total clearance of 138 to equal it.
Trump dug very deep to take it to a decider after falling behind for the first time in the entire match at 16-15 – and then just held his nerve at the death.