With the second leg of the Triple Crown, the 2021 Masters, starting this weekend, Gary Moss spoke to Stuart Bingham about his prospects of defending the title...
"Back-to-back Masters wins is no easy feat. Since the turn of the Millenium, only two players have managed it - Paul Hunter in 2002 and Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2017."
Masters champion Stuart Bingham will begin the defence of his title feeling mixed emotions, with last year's euphoric win at a raucous Alexandra Palace a world away from this week's behind-closed doors event in Milton Keynes.
For the world ranked number 12 - nicknamed Ballrun - memories of his famous win live fondly after writing his name in the history of the sport's most prestigious invitational event.
"It seems like it was yesterday but then (at the same time) with the year we've had, it feels like it could have been three years ago," he explained in an exclusive interview with Betfair.
This win - 10-8 against Ali Carter in last year's final - was the second major triumph of his career after winning the World Championship at The Crucible back in 2015. With wins in two of the sport's Triple Crown events, he has shown he can still do it on the biggest stage.
"The more of the year that has gone past the more I've had time to think about it and it's just unbelievable to now be a World Championship winner and a Masters winner; probably the two biggest events in the sport," he said. "I think it proves I've got game to compete with the best and I still pinch myself over what I've achieved in my career."
Marking the win
Winning an event with the prestige of the Masters is legacy kind of stuff and Bingham knows it will keep his name in the history of the sport forever more.
He said: "My kids will have kids and they'll have kids and when I'm gone, they'll be able to say: 'look, great grandad won the Worlds and won the Masters.
"And for me personally, looking at the greats of (Stephen) Hendry, (Steve) Davis and Ronnie (O'Sullivan), they've won them and so have I."
Bingham's ritual after a tournament win is to head to the tattoo parlour to give himself a permanent stamp of approval. He recently got the Masters trophy tattooed on his back to update his artwork.
"Normally I get the country of where I win, but being in London the tattooist wanted to put a raven on and I wasn't keen," he said.
"It's a little bit painful but it's nice to have it as a keepsake of the moment. I've got a few now and it's all (the design) turned out nice."
This leaves Bingham just one event win away from completing the game's famous Triple Crown - with just the UK Championship title left to lift. "The goal (before I retire) will be to put the UK trophy on and a crown (if I can complete it). I'll be hoping I can go there and put on a good show (in the next few years) to get that one won. I've got to the semis three times so hopefully I can convert one soon."
Still going strong
Bingham is now competing on the baize at the ripe age of 44 and has found a way to save the best for last, producing his finest form in the twilight years of his career. He puts a lot of this down to changes made by the sport's supremo Barry Hearn - recently honoured with an OBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours list.
"He transformed the game almost overnight from six tournaments a year to something like 25 and it transformed my career too. It gave me the opportunity to play lots more and because I play a bit of a numbers game and play in everything, I've managed to keep myself sharp and in form."
This career resurgence has seen Bingham establish himself as a regular at the Masters, which is contested by the top 16 players in the world each year. Bingham has only missed out on the event once in the past 10 years.
The seasoned campaigner begins his title defence against a debutant, Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh. His entertaining style and the absence of the crowd make him a dangerous opponent to be respected.
"To be playing in this event for so long shows how good I've been playing for the past decade - but for Thepchaiya it's a different feeling," added Bingham. "It shows he's up there as one of the best players in the game and when he's on the song, it's easy on the eye. He's very attacking and I'm looking forward to it.
"I'm gutted that I won't be walking out to a crowd and maybe it'll be a bit of a leveller for Thepchiaya as a debutant against the defending champion as that would probably have given me 90% of the crowd," he said.
Can he do it again?
If you fancy Bingham to repeat his Masters triumph and carry home the trophy home for a second year running, he can be backed at 22/1 on the Sportsbook.
"I feel like my game is there and I probably just need a bit of a rub of the ball at the right time and I feel like I can get my hands on another trophy. I feel like I'm playing that well."
Back-to-back Masters wins is no easy feat. Since the turn of the Millenium, only two players have managed it - Paul Hunter in 2002 and Ronnie O'Sullivan in 2017.
Bingham though is on the opposite side of the draw to the 5/2 tournament favourite Judd Trump, who despite being the runaway leader at the top of the world rankings and having won six ranking titles in 2020 is not a current holder of any of the three major titles.
"The game is so good at the moment that you can't pick and choose when you want to win," explained Bingham.
"Players like to peak for the majors, but I just don't think it happens any more. I think there's always one player or two players who it feels like it's meant to be their week and we're all hoping it will be us when we get round to the big ones."