Luca Brecel claimed a dramatic, high-quality, unexpected victory when he lifted the World Snooker Championship title on Monday, but how he spoke over the last year and the way he was talking in Sheffield made it make a lot of sense.
The Belgian Bullet has long been known as a young star of enormous potential, and had fulfilled that promise to some extent by winning three ranking titles and came to the Crucible as a seeded player.
While he had shown a lot, he hadn’t really shown enough for many to think he was ready to become world champion this year, though. Especially with a seriously treacherous path ahead of him.
However, he navigated that rocky road, beating Ricky Walden, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Si Jiahui and then Mark Selby in the final to lift the trophy.
The £500,000 top prize has seen him shoot up to number two in the world rankings, and maybe we should have listened to him when he set an ambitious goal early in the season.
After winning his first Championship League group back in July, Brecel said: ‘I feel like I’m playing a lot better than last season so hopefully it’s going to be a good season again.
‘I don’t have many points to defend so the only way is up. If I can get some good results like last season, I could finish maybe top four by the end of the season.’
That seemed like a huge ask at that point, but the world champion has achieved it, apparently without much practice at all.
On five previous visits to the Crucible, the Bullet had never landed a single victory, so he tried a different kind of preparation this year.
After beating Walden in the last 32, he told Eurosport: ‘I haven’t really practiced for this tournament, I’ve been playing darts most of the time.
‘‘I think I’ve maybe had only 15 minutes of practice in three weeks, I think I’ve done quite well to win this game.
‘Many people ask me why – I don’t know. I’m at home, I’ve got a good life. I do so many things in my life that I almost forget to play snooker.
‘Also I just wanted to do something different this year, because I’ve lost all my games here. I was like, I need something to motivate me to play well.’
Not everyone believed Brecel, but given he drove back to Belgium after beating Walden and again after downing Williams, he was certainly employing the plan of very little practice during the event.
It is also an approach he has taken to in the past, revealing a very relaxed game plan after beating Judd Trump at last season’s Tour Championship.
‘I didn’t practice as much, that was my choice,’ Brecel told ITV4 after the impressive win in March last year. ‘The last month I didn’t practice because I was busy with buying a house and all those kind of things.’
So little practice was not going to be a problem for the man full of natural talent, and he had the added bonus this year of being in the buoyant early stages of a new relationship.
The 28-year-old mentioned his girlfriend a couple of times early in his Crucible run, but it was after beating O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals that he explained just how whirlwind their romance has been.
‘I’m very happy, that’s the main reason I’m playing well,’ he said after downing the Rocket. ‘I haven’t practiced so there’s no reason I should play well. But it just shows you, if you have a bit of talent and feel good in yourself then you can play amazing.’
On how long he had been with Laura Vanoverberghe, he explained: ‘Only two or three weeks, it’s very new but she lives with me already. It’s a fantastic feeling, she’s a great girl.’
Moving in together after just a couple of weeks is pretty wild, but it clearly helped Luca take his mind off what he was achieving in Sheffield, or maybe even spurred him on to impress Laura with his talents.
As he progressed to the final to take on Selby over four sessions, surely one of the greatest challenges in the sport, he didn’t seem to be affected by nerves in the slightest.
Again, maybe we should have listened to him before if we expected him to wobble under the brightest lights, because he has explained in the past that he overcame nerves long ago and has never felt them since.
‘I don’t see a reason why I should,’ he told Metro.co.uk a year ago about his impressively nerveless nature. ‘Some people get so over enthusiastic about things, for me everything is quite normal. Unless it’s a final, 17-each on the black, I’m going to feel nerves, but apart from that, no chance.
‘When I was really young starting the game I was always quite nervous, but now there’s so many tournaments and it’s such a nice life, so why should you feel nervous to just play a game?
‘Everyone complains, I try to never complain. Even when I’m just in the hotel or something, I enjoy myself. It’s so much better than working all day.’
As it turns out that Brecel has been encouragingly consistent with what he says, what can we expect from him now he is world champion?
One thing we shouldn’t expect is for him to change his rampaging, attacking style which carried him to Crucible glory.
The Bullet was compared to the Hurricane, such was his riotous intent on the table, and he welcomes the comparison, promising to continue on that path as the world champ.
‘A lot of people on the internet compare me to Alex Higgins, which is a compliment, obviously,’ he said. ‘That’s how I want to play, I want to be entertaining, I’ve always said that.
‘Winning is not the most important thing, I think. It’s great to see a crowd enjoying it, people loving it online. That’s the most important thing, for me.
‘I think that’s what the people want to see. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I think I’m a nice world champion, if you like, because I play the game in a very attacking way.
‘It’s not always going to work because I’m going to miss shots and leave my opponent easy chances sometimes, but if it works it’s fascinating to watch.’
There appears to be a lot of truth in what Brecel says, and certainly his closing statement there. It will be fascinating to watch.
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