The rampaging Robbo has a case with his snooker cue. The Melburnian left-hander with the voracious appetite for potting balls was watched like a Hawk in ending a uniquely fruitful few days at the Masters in London sinking avocado tequila shots after his shots at glory. Heady times indeed.
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Robertson – a fabulously strutting shot-maker ferociously dubbed ‘The Thunder from Down Under’ – is Australia’s Don Bradman of the green baize. It is just a pity that the peacock of potting’s pristine play has never been celebrated back in Oz as much as it is in Blighty.
Robertson looked as doomed as an English Test cricketer in the Ashes as he trailed 4-1 and 5-3 to the triple world champion Williams on Saturday before somehow emerging from Down Under the Alexandra Palace floorboards by popping in the final black having successfully chased down two snookers with only eight balls left up.
This all unfolded after Williams had seemingly reached his first final since winning the shooting match for a second time in 2003 by compiling a lovely 67 before a miraculous escape on the final red.
“Never give up, never ever give up,” bellowed Robertson. “Any kids watching, does not matter how it looks, just don’t give up.”
It had to be seen to be believed, but when you engage in such an outrageous act of sporting escapology, you don’t waste the opportunity to shake off the straitjacket when you don the old waistcoat a day later chasing the fabled Paul Hunter Trophy and a handy £250,000.
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From the baggy green to that tournament-defining pot on the green against Williams, lifting the Masters for a second time a full decade after his first was as heroic a moment as Head being named Australia’s man of the Ashes after the left-hander’s Hobart century saw him finish top run scorer.
Of course, centuries have become Robertson’s stock-in-trade with 812 made to lie fourth behind Ronnie O’Sullivan (1131), John Higgins (864) and Judd Trump (829) in the all-time list. He continues to hold the all-time seasonal record of 103 tons set way back in the 2013/14 season. In snooker years, it feels like a lifetime ago.
Robertson helped himself to six centuries in wins over Anthony McGill, O’Sullivan, Williams and Hawkins as the latest feverish Masters was fought out before a frazzled 2,200 crowd a year after the pandemic forced it behind closed doors in Milton Keynes.
“So many people have said they’ve never seen anything like my deciding frame with Mark Williams in sport, let alone snooker,” said Robertson.
I was absolutely dead and buried and all of a sudden it was like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
He reserved two century knocks and eight runs over 50 in his coronation at the palace against Hawkins, who at least avoided the sense of desolation that struck him in shipping 10 straight frames to O’Sullivan in a 10-1 flogging in the 2016 final.
Heartening wins over world No. 1 Mark Selby and No. 2 Trump will do little to deflate his sense of well-being.
There is no shame in finishing second to Robertson in such a mood, but a top effort of 69 was never going to trouble the thought process of a ravenous opponent with more survival instincts than Bush Tucker man in the Northern Territory outside of Yorkshire.
Neil Robertson and family with the Masters trophy
Image credit: Other Agency
Thankfully for the wider health of the game at which he excels, he seems to be at one with snooker after overcoming the worrying problem of pulsatile tinnitus in his ears which prompts dizziness as his defence of the UK title saw him lose 6-2 to John Astley in the first round last month. On the table, he has never been scared of dizzying heights.
At his self-assured best, Robertson can move as rapidly as ‘Steady’ Eddie Charlton, Australia’s most famous plodder, who seemed to play safe with safety in mind. Rust moved quicker than the slothful 1975 world finalist on the charge.
Therein perhaps lies the key to Robertson’s victory at the Masters that should provide him with a greenprint, so to speak, for his future on the cusp of turning 40 in February as he bids to find the key to the Crucible door.
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When Robertson avoids being dragged into the snooker swamplands, he tends to prosper which is illustrated by winning some sort of elite competition every year for the past 17 years.
For a player of such natural ability and attacking instinct, a cue sport thoroughbred like Phar Lap at the Melbourne Cup, it remains an oddity, and some might argue an underachievement, that he has only reached one World Championship semi-final since conquering the Crucible Theatre in 2010.
He has endured some baffling times in Sheffield in failing to shake off some battle-hardened combatants, most visibly in the quarter-finals over the past three years in losing to ultimate match players John Higgins, Selby and Kyren Wilson, as pre-tournament expectations rapidly become much ado about nothing at the theatre.
Hawkins and Robertson walk out to raucous atmosphere in evening session
“I don’t like the venue, from a technical point of view it’s very difficult for me to walk into my shot properly, it’s actually almost impossible to do,” said Robertson.
To get to the one-table set-up I need to negotiate that and it’s something that I have to work on.
When Robbo slows up, he tends to dry up.
His average shot time is just inside the top 50 of the World Snooker Tour on 23.40, but he was at his deadliest when he just let himself go in London.
He compiled 102, 52 and 83 to remain in the fight with Williams, who enjoyed flukes that would have crushed weaker spirits, but was down to 17 seconds in running in 95 in the ninth frame and hovered just above 13 seconds during a match-levelling 119 in the 10th.
The need for ‘The Thunder’ to make haste while the sun doesn’t shine is perhaps greater for the Victoria man because it allows him to perform at the peak of his powers.
He won’t get any better as O’Sullivan himself pointed out as a Eurosport pundit during the Masters final because he has an almost watertight all-round game, but he can be wiser with his choices in altering the narrative. All the greats are armed with intuition and Robertson fits snugly into that category.
When his speed of thought is behind speed of shot, he tends to lose his way. Especially at the World Championship when one bad session can prove a tournament-ending experience full of regret. Time to overthink can be a true burden on the baize.
He has cited the work of ageless American icon Tom Brady in flourishing at 44 in the pursuit of an eighth Super Bowl with Tampa Bay in the NFL.
“It’s not too late to become a three or four-time world champion. Look at Tom Brady, he is a massive inspiration,” he said.
When you have people like that carrying the flag you can achieve anything well into your 40s. You just have to stay confident and keep believing.
Nobody is suggesting Robertson should always play with more pace than Pat Cummins thundering down the wicket, but there is a clear route out of the potting perdition that Sheffield has provided. The need for speed is obvious.
Robertson at the Crucible remains a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma in the great theatrical TV sport. Like an actor at the Crucible forgetting his lines during an amateur production, being reduced to the role of bit-part player on the main stage remain one of snooker’s great mysteries. Perhaps the greatest.
Robertson’s final and ultimate challenge in snooker is transporting his Masters class to the World Championship. Amid the masterful elation of tequila away from Ally Pally, it remains a genuine head-scratcher that might finally have an answer.
NEIL ROBERTSON: HOW HE MASTERED THE FIELD
- Round 1: Neil Robertson 6-3 Anthony McGill
- Quarter-finals: Neil Robertson 6-4 Ronnie O’Sullivan
- Semi-finals: Neil Robertson 6-5 Mark Williams
- Final: Neil Robertson 10-4 Barry Hawkins
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