Luca Brecel made his big breakthrough earlier this week by capturing the China Championship crown in Guangzhou after beating Shaun Murphy 10-5 in the final.
It was a maiden ranking title in the career of the 22-year-old, who climbed into the world’s top 16 for the first time after collecting the top prize of Â£150,000 – his highest cheque to date.
He also became the first player from continental Europe to get his hands on ranking silverware in a week that saw him beat the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan and Marco Fu before dispatching of Murphy in Tuesday’s showpiece.
Still only 22, this could be the first of many titles that the Belgian wins in his career but, up until victory in Guangzhou, it’s fair to say that he had taken a while to really underline his potential and, although being a joy to watch when in full flow, became one of the more frustrating players on the circuit.
There has never been in any doubt with regards to the wonderful natural talent that Brecel possesses and big things were expected from a very young age.
When he was just 12 years old, videos emerged of him on YouTube making maximum breaks with relative ease and, aged 14, he became the youngest-ever winner of the European Under-19 Championship in 2009 before turning professional two years later.
His ability and potential were there for the watching world to see when he became the youngest player ever to qualify for the Crucible in 2012, while making a top break of 116 during his 10-5 defeat to Stephen Maguire in the opening round, as well as reaching the UK Championship quarter-finals eight months later.
However, it was over two years until the Bullet came into the spotlight again when he got to the Last Four of the 2015 Welsh Open, before progressing to the final of the following year’s German Masters, where he was beaten 9-5 by Martin Gould.
Of course, with so many tournaments on the ever-growing snooker calendar nowadays, you cannot expect a player to produce their peak performance levels all the time – you only have to look at the surprise results at any given event to understand that it is not physically possible.
But, the gaps in between these impressive runs show that a real lack of consistency was evident and providing a huge obstacle in Brecel’s quest to make strides in the game.
His first-round match against Marco Fu at this year’s World Championship would be a prime example of that. After flying out of the blocks to establish a commanding 7-2 lead, he was on the wrong end of an inspired comeback before eventually succumbing to a heart-breaking 10-9 defeat.
And the disappointment was evident during his post-match press conference, where he gave very limited answers and was understandably furious with himself for squandering such a positive position.
Although, the past week showed that he’s come a long way in the space of less than four months.
There was definitely a huge improvement in the mental strength and maturity side of things. He must have feared a case of dÃ©jÃ vu when Fu pegged him back to 4-2 from 4-0 up in the second round, but held himself together to get the job done.
Similarly, when Mike Dunn reduced the gap from 4-1 to just a single frame at 4-3 in round three, Brecel was not affected and produced a dominant eighth to cross the line.
Then, there was that epic quarter-final showdown with O’Sullivan, who raced into a 4-1 lead and to the brink of a place in the semis.
Nevertheless, the Belgian responded emphatically with back-to-back centuries to give himself hope and, although he needed a bit of good fortune after fluking the last red to force a decider, he stayed calm when chances were coming and going for both players, before eventually clearing the colours and letting out his emotion upon potting the decisive pink.
Brecel was also on the cusp of defeat at 5-4 down against surprise package Li Hang in the Last Four, having led 3-1 at one stage. But, again, there was no disappointment at surrendering his advantage and he took the match into another deciding frame, where a brilliant break of 75 under pressure was a testament to his character shown.
After reeling off four frames in a row from 3-1 down against Murphy in the final, there was potential for him to be downbeat when he missed the pink for a 6-3 lead and, instead, had to settle for a narrow 5-4 advantage going into the evening session.
However, knowing he’d have happily taken that position at the start of play, the Bullet dusted himself down and looked rejuvenated when he emerged later on and capitalised on some uncharacteristic mistakes from Murphy – including an impressive clearance to move 8-5 in front as opposed to being pegged back to 7-6.
There weren’t too many free-flowing big breaks from Brecel in the final, but he showed that snooker is not all about that – going for his shots when it was the right time and, in equal measure, playing safe when he needed to.
Even when things went scrappy in the last two frames, he produced another two nerveless clearances at the vital times to secure what was a reasonably comfortable 10-5 victory in the end.
In an era where so many of the game’s older generation and journeymen are enjoying their breakthroughs while there’s a constant debate about there not being enough youth coming through, Brecel’s triumph is a very timely one and, with the European Masters in Belgium just over a month away, he will be returning to his homeland as a champion and hero.
Now that he’s finally come of age by claiming his maiden ranking title, it’s now all about the 22-year-old maintaining that level of consistency by remaining in the world’s top 16 and, hopefully for the good of the game, going on to lift many more trophies in the years to come.
Providing he can do that and, with the potential and plenty of time on his side, it’s frightening to think how good Luca Brecel could become.