Littler & Humphries: Finalists Unlikely Journeys

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It is a photo which speaks a thousand words. Luke Littler and Luke Humphries, our unlikely pair of finalists, pictured in 2019 after playing off in a local competition. Littler, 12 at the time, is markedly younger and without the facial hair that dons his face now. His time might come, but surely not for a while.

And yet Humphries has also changed. Back then, his well-publicised issues with anxiety were still in the rear-view mirror, as ‘Cool Hand’ tried to rebuild his confidence and love for the game. He was already a World Championship quarter-finalist, but he had so far to go yet. The road that the two have travelled since cannot be underestimated.

And so emerges a final which is in so many ways a triumph against adversity and the odds, but also possesses the highest of stakes. Luke Littler has overcome all before him, but he is yet to face a player who could truly be regarded as a tournament favourite. Tonight, that changes.

But for Humphries, the proposition is equally as tough. He no doubt expected his world final debut, should it come off, to be one in which he faces the scrutiny and limelight of expectation. But instead his narrative, however equally as enticing, must play second fiddle.

Had Humphries not delivered one of the all-time great semi-final performances yesterday evening, his claim on a maiden World Championship would have looked much weaker. But instead the pair look aptly placed to go hammer and tongs for the Sid Waddell trophy. And whereas Littler has had an almost seamless route to this stage, Humphries has twice clawed back from the verge of defeat against both Ricardo Pietreczko and Joe Cullen. The battle-weary on the one hand, versus the unscarred on the other.

Luke Littler can perhaps look to the man he vanquished in the semi-finals, Rob Cross, as evidence that the fairytale need not stop yet. In 2018, when he went on an unlikely run to the world final also on debut, he produced the biggest giant-killing of them all over Phil Taylor.

Cross’s skill in that World Championship was to not allow his focus to escape or be affected by the rising press clamour and intrigue. Until he nailed the final double to deny Taylor a happy fairytale departure, it was all business. And however much a world final at 16-years-old is a cause for adulation, if Littler wants to win, he must do the same.

There is every reason to believe he will retain that focus, given how cool and calm he looked in despatching Rob Cross yesterday. But like most finals, it will be one defined by those glimmers of opportunity and chinks in the armour. They have earned their spots, but who will be the last man standing?



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