Neil Robertson has what many of this year’s contenders do not: a world title.
The experience of having lasted the distance at the Crucible coupled with the knowledge that snooker’s greatest prize is not beyond him makes him a very dangerous prospect.
He has also played very well for much of the season. He was runner-up in three tournaments – the International Championship, Masters and PTC Grand Finals – before securing the China Open title a couple of weeks ago.
I remember the first time Robertson played at the Crucible in 2005. He went for everything and ran Stephen Hendry close with a good comeback before losing 10-7.
These days he is more measured, more rounded but every bit as confident, more so now he has titles to back up the potential.
Robertson has it all: he’s a great potter, heavy scorer, a fine tactician and has a big match temperament which makes him a formidable pressure player.
He was looking good last year but ran into Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals. In the second session, O’Sullivan took control. Robertson, for once, was bested when the pressure came on.
The Aussie is usually adept at applying pressure to others. He has ironed out the early rawness in his game without losing his attacking instincts.
When things have gone wrong this season – losing 6-4 to Mark Selby from 4-0 up in the UK Championship quarter-finals – it has been the result of going negative.
Robertson can play the tactical game really well but is best in full flow, attacking and dominating opponents. Getting bogged down has sometimes led to problems and meant that his natural fluency has been eroded.
His best performance the year he won the title came against Martin Gould in the second round: an all guns blazing display which saw Robertson win 13-12 from 11-5 down. This is the Neil Robertson which strikes fear into opponents.
I think Neil’s general character is also a reason for his success. He is a cheerful, positive sort. He’s not a moaner and groaner. The glass is always half full.
He would admit himself that preparation and general dizziness have caused problems for him in the past. I won’t list the occasions but they are well documented. Some others aren’t documented.
But put it this way: if he turns up in Sheffield with a clear head then he will be one of the main favourites to win the title. It would be a shock if he lost early on.
Robertson is a snooker warrior. He possesses a tough competitive spirit, burns with determination and certainly has the game to go all the way.
It will come down to how he performs against the big hitters he is sure to meet in the latter stages if he gets that far. O’Sullivan would again provide a stern test, as would Selby. Robertson is up to either test but they are different: O’Sullivan cobra-like in his deadly way, Selby more like a boa constrictor squeezing the life out of him.
There’s no venom in Robertson but there is real drive of the sort you’d expect from a player who has made genuine sacrifices to pursue his dream.
To be world champion once is a lifetime ambition realised. To win it again is to join a select company of true greats.