Professional snooker finally returns to Asia this week with the Hong Kong Masters, an elite tournament for eight players and the first staged in the region since 2019 before Covid played havoc with the calendar.
Neil Robertson won the last staging of the Hong Kong event five years ago and has since racked up a succession of trophies thanks to his formidable attacking game and big match temperament. Last season alone he won four titles, including the Masters amid a pulsating atmosphere at Alexandra Palace in London.
Here’s what Ronnie O’Sullivan, beaten by Robertson in that 2017 Hong Kong final, said of the Australian on Eurosport last year:
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“Everybody rates him as a fantastic player. His CV is amazing and when he plays well, he plays very, very well. It’s a little surprising that he hasn’t won the World Championship more than once… I’m sure he’d like to win two or three and he’s capable of it. He has that Rolls-Royce cue action that every snooker player envies.”
Two questions, then: Why hasn’t Robertson won the world title again since his triumph in 2010? And does this undermine his status as a great of the sport?
The 40-year-old has captured the UK Championship three times and the Masters twice. He currently has 23 ranking titles to his name, leaving him in a tie with Judd Trump for sixth place on the all-time list, and has won the Champion of Champions on two occasions. The Tour Championship, the most elite event on the circuit featuring only the eight leading points earners of the season, has been won twice in four stagings by Robertson.
He has, therefore, undoubtedly been one of the dominant players of the last decade, alongside O’Sullivan, Trump and Mark Selby, but O’Sullivan has won seven world titles and Selby four.
The World Championship, UK Championship and Masters are banded together as the ‘triple crown’, which is presented to the public as a historic measure of greatness. In fact, it is a concept invented a few years ago for marketing purposes.
‘Triple crown’ suggests an equivalence between the three events. There is none. The World Championship stands alone as the supreme test of a snooker player due to its longer frame format and history, having first been staged in 1927, whereas every other tournament has been conceived to meet the demands of TV.
The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield has become an almost sacred place, where only the best thrive. Since the World Championship moved there in 1977 the UK Championship has been staged at six different venues and the Masters at five. Both events have undergone significant format changes while the World Championship remains virtually untouched for 40 years.
So like it or not, the World Championship casts a long shadow over the sport. It’s not just another tournament, it’s THE tournament. Reputations are made – and broken – annually in Sheffield. There are players who will forever be woven into the fabric of snooker because they won the big one, despite enjoying little success elsewhere. Equally, there are players who have won plenty of titles but have been knocked down the pecking order through falling short in the steel city.

'Surprising he hasn't won World Championship more than once' - O'Sullivan on Robertson

Robertson has travelled the furthest of any world champion, a literal journey from the other side of the world, leaving behind family, friends and the life he knew for a step into the unknown.
When he made the leap to come to the UK in 2003, he was just 21. It was an exciting step to take but mentally challenging and financially risky. Settling down in Cambridge, he captured his first major trophy at the Grand Prix in Aberdeen in 2006 and has won a title of some kind every calendar year since.
But in amongst all of this considerable success, there has been only one world title. ‘Only’ is a big word in that sentence because to win the sport’s premier event at all is a major achievement. It’s a measure of the regard everyone in snooker has for Robertson that there is general bemusement he hasn’t added to his tally in the 12 years since his victory. His last appearance in the semi-finals came in 2014.
Robertson himself has offered the explanation that his height and manner of walking into each shot are hampered by the cramped nature of the Crucible arena. This year he even reconfigured his practice space to imitate the tight corners which limit his natural way of playing.
But he has, in fact, played some brilliant snooker in the two-table set-up. Looking at his recent record, he has made a combined total of 23 centuries in the first two rounds alone in the last four World Championships. This doesn’t point to being inhibited.
In 2019, he was the overwhelming favourite until he fell in the quarter-finals to John Higgins. A year later he lost at the same stage to Selby and in 2021, again in the last eight, to Kyren Wilson.

Neil Robertson

Image credit: Getty Images

These three defeats were all similar in that Robertson’s natural attacking instincts seemed to wane in the face of more dogged opponents, who shifted him onto their terrain. Leading Wilson 4-2 and playing freely to that point, Robertson for some reason played the negative break-off shot into the back of the pack, as pioneered by Mark Williams. This didn’t augur well for his mindset.
Last season was different. He played attacking snooker and made a 147 but was still beaten 13-12 in the second round by an inspired Jack Lisowski. It was a different performance but another early exit.
It seems Robertson has now convinced himself that there is a problem with the Crucible itself, which may explain why he has suggested the tournament should move somewhere else.
How many regular trophies equal one World Championship? In monetary terms, the British Open at the weekend was worth £100,000 to its winner, Ryan Day, while the world champion collects five times that.
However, the financial reward is the offshoot of everything else: the history, the prestige and the unique place the Crucible marathon has in the collective consciousness. Any list of the great moments in snooker is heavily dominated by the World Championship, so it’s natural that we keep coming back to it when assessing a player’s career.
And yet, in an age of stats, we can sometimes forget the human dynamics and lose perspective. When Robertson won in 2010 his mother made the trip from Australia but his father didn’t. In recent times his dad has come over to accompany him. He got Robertson into snooker and Neil would love to win it for him, but there is already considerable pressure just playing in the event. These aren’t considerations for the British players, whose relatives can jump in a car at pretty much the last minute.
Ultimately, Robertson should not lose sleep over any of this. He has had a fantastic career.
The fact is, only 25 men in the 95 years of the championship have lifted the game’s most prized trophy. Robertson is already in an elite pantheon. He has achieved the ambition of anyone who has ever picked up a cue and dared to dream. He has faced and overcome challenges most British players have never had to deal with. He has been an articulate, positive presence within the game and a credit to his sports-mad country. He has found personal happiness with his wife, Mille, and their children, Alexander and Penelope.
When he was scrubbing toilets in a Melbourne nightclub as a teenager, thousands of miles away from where the snooker action was, all of this must have seemed an impossibility.
O’Sullivan is typically perceptive in his twin assessments of Robertson: of course, he would like more world titles but, equally, many players would like the cue action and career he has had.
And when April comes around again, he remains a player nobody wants to draw regardless of his Sheffield struggles in recent years. There is still time for Neil Robertson to fall in love with the Crucible.
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