As Judd Trump geared up for the 2022 World Snooker Championship, it’s fair to say he wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence.
The season had been disappointing by his standards, winning just two tournaments compared to the 11 he had won across the two previous campaigns.
The latest setback was a 10-6 defeat to Luca Brecel in the quarter-finals of the Tour Championship, which left Trump in a deep malaise and questioning whether he even wanted to take part in Sheffield.
“My main aim in snooker always is to enjoy it, and at the moment I am not,” the 32-year-old reflected after crashing out of the Tour Championship.
“Not being able to keep that form up and struggling, it is quite tough to take mentally. At this moment in time, I don’t even want to play in the World Championship, so I’ll go away and think about things.
“Right now, the World Championship feels like just another tournament and there are no expectations from me, I will turn up because I have to. And other than that, I expect to lose in the first round.”
What a difference a few weeks can make.
Trump arrived at the Crucible feeling like he had something of a free hit.
For the first time since he won his maiden world title in 2019, he wasn’t considered among the top favourites in the online bet market to win the tournament, and that seemed to relax him.
A tough first-round draw against talented Iranian debutant Hossein Vafaei had some predicting an upset, but Trump did enough to get over the line and reach round two, surpassing the downbeat expectations he set for himself in Llandudno.
A hard-fought 13-11 win over Anthony McGill in the second round seemed to give Trump life, and suddenly he found himself enjoying the challenge at the Crucible.
Indeed, it’s probably fair to say that we saw Trump smile more in this year’s World Championship than in any prior tournament.
The world number two seemed intent on enjoying every last moment of the event, simply allowing fate to take its course as far as results were concerned.
This was a marked change from his usual demeanour.
It was in the last session of his quarter-final tie against Stuart Bingham that Trump really turned on the style.
Having trailed 8-5 at one point in the match, the pair went into the deciding session tied at 8-8, before Trump blasted his way to a 13-8 victory having won eight frames on the spin.
It was a stunning display, and suddenly it looked as though he had a genuine chance of winning the tournament.
The good form continued at the beginning of the semi-final against Mark Williams.
Trump surged into a 7-1 lead after session one, before leading 11-5 at the midway point of the match.
From there, Williams fought back with incredible steel and determination, ultimately taking the lead at 16-15, just one frame away from knocking Trump out.
Even in such a perilous position, Trump kept the smile on his face and stayed positive, levelling the match at 16-16 and forcing a decider.
Before the final frame began, Trump began rallying the frenzied Crucible crowd to roar all the louder — this was a man revelling in the moment rather than worrying about what might happen next.
Trump won 17-16, setting up a dream final against Ronnie O’Sullivan, and although that ended in an 18-13 defeat, Trump went away from Sheffield with his head held high, his love for the game perhaps renewed and refreshed.
It’s possible he learned something about himself over those 17 days, that snooker need not be so serious all the time, and that sometimes a smile and a laugh can provide the relaxation needed to produce one’s best when it matters most.