12.4.10

CRUCIBLE COUNTDOWN: THE MAN FROM DOWN UNDER

Snooker was never going to be a leading sport in Australia. The favourable climate means outdoor pursuits hold sway over indoor games.

Even so, it is a country that has produced several players who have played their part in the sport’s history.

Walter Lindrum was a billiards genius and his nephew, Horace, won the world snooker title in 1952 but his triumph was discredited as all the other leading players boycotted the tournament in a row over money, leaving a field of just two.

Eddie Charlton was a household name for two decades and reached three World Championship finals in the 1970s.

A dour, hard-as-nails grinder, Charlton, who spent five years third in the world rankings, was a byword for durability. He last played at the Crucible in 1992 at the age of 62.

In 1989 he beat Cliff Thorburn 10-9 in the first round in a match that finished at 2.40am. Asked afterwards by a journalist if he should have thought about providing the crowd with entertaining snooker Charlton’s reply was unambiguous:

“F*ck the crowd, I’m here to win,” he said.

Warren King, who reached a ranking event final at the 1990 Mercantile Classic, and John Campbell were other Australians to play at the Crucible during the age of Charlton.

Robby Foldvari never did. If he had it might have extended the championship by a couple of days.

Foldvari, twice world billiards champion, could make Charlton look like Tony Drago. He contested the longest ever best of nine frame match with Ian Williamson in the 1994 British Open qualifiers. It ground on for seven hours, 14 minutes and 12 seconds.

When he played at the IBSF World Amateur Championship a couple of years ago one of his opponents, perhaps fearing the worst, took a book and pillow into the arena.

Quinten Hann, by contrast, was fast and attacking. Sometimes he was too attacking, as when he several times suicidally smashed into the pack in breaking off.

He once conceded a frame at the UK Championship with nine reds remaining.

Famously, he took part in the ‘Pot Whack’ boxing stunt with Mark King having offered to fight Andy Hicks after the mild mannered Devonian had the temerity to beat him at the Crucible.

Hann, who would probably qualify as a ‘character’, as if that means anything when set against winning titles, had his playing career ended when he was secretly taped by a national newspaper agreeing to throw a match for money. He was banned for eight years.

In 1975, Australia hosted the World Championship thanks to Charlton’s enterprising efforts. An Australian ranking event was announced in 1989, the only snag being that it was eventually played in Hong Kong.

It transpired that the address the would-be promoter had given for his ‘business’ was actually a bus shelter.

Neil Robertson’s introduction to snooker came courtesy of his father, who ran a snooker club in Melbourne.

Who knows why some people take naturally to sport and others don’t? There’s no doubt Robertson had an instinctive eye for snooker and he rose fast through the junior ranks.

At 14, he became the first player ever to make a century in an Australian ranking event and won the national under 18 title.

He took the risky decision to leave school at 15, turned professional at 16 and headed for the UK but was too young, too inexperienced and had too few financial resources for it to be viable. He dropped off the circuit and headed home, uncertain about his future.

Robertson is today a confident character with his fair share of female fans but as a teenager he was self conscious about his appearance and it made him withdrawn. He channelled his energies into improving as a snooker player.

Winning the 2003 World under 21 title earned him another shot at the pro tour and he made the most of it.

Happily settled in Cambridge, he won the qualifying event for the 2004 Masters, reached his first ranking event quarter-final that year at the European Open and first qualified for the Crucible in 2005.

In 2006 he won his first ranking title, the Grand Prix, and went on to capture the 2007 Welsh Open and 2008 Bahrain Championship. He was a World Championship semi-finalist last year.

Tall, blonde and gregarious, he plays the game in an attacking style and possesses a solid temperament. Nothing much seems to faze him.

Off the table, though, he can be a little too relaxed. This season he turned up for one Premier League match just five minutes before it was due to start.

Last year he was docked two frames at the Championship League after taking a wrong turning while following Joe Perry – who he was due to play – which meant he turned up late.

At the Crucible two years ago he returned to Sheffield after taking a break between first and second round matches and found, just 15 minutes before his match, that he hadn’t packed his shoes.

This necessitated a mad dash to Marks and Spencer over the road but he found the shoes rubbed his heels, as new pairs tend to do.

This year represents Robertson’s best chance to so far to become world champion. He won the Grand Prix last October, lost classics to John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan in the UK Championship and Masters respectively and compiled the first 147 break of his professional career at the recent China Open.

This season he has made more centuries than anyone else on the main tour and has a reasonable draw, although Higgins could be waiting in the quarter-finals.

But if he were to win the title, would his compatriots even notice?

Robertson - christened the 'Thunder from Down Under' - gets little press coverage back home. TV exposure has increased in Australia but most matches tend to be on at an unsociable hour. His mother and friends often stay up watching the hypnotic click-click of worldsnooker.com’s live scoring.

He is ploughing a lone furrow, a little like Andy Murray for UK tennis, but the difference is that Britain is a country with a tennis heritage and a major event every year.

Robertson would be a huge star back home were he as successful in a sport more Aussie friendly than snooker.

Maybe that will finally change if he wins the biggest prize of all. He is certainly going to take some stopping this year.

13 comments:

Trophymad said...

Neil may have not so many fans in Australia, but he has many all over the world! I like his style in play and I defenetly agree with you: He can make it this year, his season so far was great! If he beats John Higgins then he has a chance. And he is one of the few who actually did beat John Higgins this season.

Anonymous said...

Snooker © The Fine Art Method
A secret is wasted if not shared
Dear Jane Holland @ 11:48 PM Hi Dave
How are you both! Australian snooker Jane is very similar commercially to the ladies game here in blighty it just needs a boost at the right time.

The warm climate in Australia is crying out for an indoor game or sport with shelter from the sun. In the same way that the British people needs shelter from the present pro game with its monotonous dull sameness repeated in every competition.

More snooker tournaments for men to share the same prize money is a poor substitute for TV entertainment.
The Ladies game should be a W/S priority and will in time be snookers biggest export.
The girls are sadly trying to play like men when they have so much more to give the game like elegance, and finesse while in play. Mr hey you

CHRISK5 said...

I am a huge admirer of Neil Robertson (even though I am right handed myself)

His brief sabbatical from the main tour in the early 2000's would have sent a clear message of how much hard work & dedication was required to make it.

The manner in which he despatched Ding 9-4 in the 2009 Grand Prix Final was a perfect display of total snooker & protecting an advantage like granite.

He blends defence & attack so well.

His season has tailed off slightly since,though,his narrow losses to Ronnie & John Higgins illustrates just how close he is getting.

If he could just add or find another 5-10% to his game - Then he would be a definite World Champ in my view.

If not this year,then 2011 or 2012 surely will be Robbo's time.

KILDARE CUEMAN said...

Fine player Robertson, and he may well triumph at Sheffield this year, just as 7 or 8 other players might, in what must be the most open championship ever.

I dont know if he possesses the game to be an all time great though.

His potting is amazing, his temperament and safety are good, but I feel his positional play could be a lot tighter.

At the moment he is in his prime and the shortcomings in his positional play are negated by his ability to knock them in from anywhere, hence all the centuries hes made this year.

Thats fine, as long as he is on his game, but on a day when they are not flying in from all angles, the top players can win by leaving themselves unmissable pots, courtesy of a series of cannons, judgement of pace and use of the pocket [making the angle].

Robertson is not what you would call a poor positional player, but he lags behind Higgins, O'Sullivan, Selby, Williams, Ding, and many more.

Its very rare[though not impossible] for a player to pot his way through 16 sessions at the crucible, although it has been done by Sean Murphy.

Who knows, Robbo got through 9 last year before the wheels came off. Maybe he can do it, but Im not convinced.

CHRISK5 said...

Probably one of the most underrated moments of Robertsons career so far was when he played Ali Carter in last years World Championship.

Robbo went on to win the match 13-8

Midway through the contest,Robbo clinched 4 or 5 consecutive frames with supreme counter-attacking breaks of 60 or 70 plus.

Which not only exemplified Carters inability to sometimes get over the line in situations - But,also Robertson's brilliance in capitalising on an opponent's weakness - That was truly awesome!

On the subject of Quentin Hann - It's one thing being cocky & arrogant - But,only when you have good reasons to be!

I remember when BBC did an interview with him in the early 2000's - He was getting around the Top 16 at that point - If you didn't know any different - You would have thought he was World Champ already & had nothing else to prove or accomplish!!

I wouldn't quite call Quentin a waste of space - But,I certainly wasn't at all sorry to see him dissapear off the circuit - He showed the game & his peers very little respect.

jamie brannon said...

Quinten Hann would qualify as a character, but he was just too reckless and lacked respect for the game too often, thus he never built up a strong support.

I feel the most interesting characters, need to have a little bit of controversy.

Anonymous said...

Selby's better than Robertson

Anonymous said...

@Jamie Brannon

Quinten Hann was a great player, and I agree quite a character. Just what the game needs today. Whatever happened to him?

jamie brannon said...

He was a character, not sure if he was a desirable one though. As for a great player, not in a million years he didn't even make a ranking final. He was fairly talented but was never more than a top ten player if he had dedicated himself more.

Betty Logan said...

I remember one year Hann qualified and when asked to rate his chances he surmised that it would be his year since he had "beaten all the top players". Along with his challenge to deck Andy Hicks, and Clive Everton's exasperation at his pack breaking, not to mention the parachute jump which took him out of a season with a broken leg, I thought he was fantastic for the game.

Controversy is one thing though, but there is a line, and sadly he was two rape trials over it.

jamie brannon said...

Two rape trial's where he was acquitted I may add, he crossed the line with the match fixing, having said that I would have him back, but he won't want to and he couldn't cut it in five years time anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's really funny...last year I decided, that I'd like to see Neil Robertson win the World Championships. I thought this would be a rare tip, but now I read more and more predictions saying Neil might win this year. Well, now I just hope we're right!

Ian said...

Well, he has just gone and done it!