There is a quote attributed – as most quotes tend to be – to Winston Churchill, which defines success as “going from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.”
Neil Robertson has had his share of low moments during a long career but his capture of the Masters title on Sunday night was sweet reward for a player who mixes sunny optimism with a formidable all round game.
For Robertson, the glass is usually half full, if not overflowing. He has always had a gift for putting setbacks to one side and looking for positives, which may explain why he has been able to extend his remarkable sequence of winning a title of some sort every calendar year since his maiden victory. The run began in 2006 and now stands at 17 years and counting.
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The most valuable commodity anyone has is their time. Robertson was prepared at a young age to sacrifice precious time with his family in Australia to pursue his dream of becoming a top snooker professional. In doing so, he has become a great of the sport.
Some of those early years must have been lonely and uncertain. It takes strength of character to ascend to the summit of any sport, but Robertson had considerable challenges, not least financial, which make his story special.
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He grew up in a Melbourne snooker club run by his father. In those days, winning pocket change to buy a can of soft drink was as ambitious as he got.
Improvements came rapidly and Robertson turned professional at 16. He came to the UK, possessing a raw talent but out of his depth. He was relegated on his birthday and went back to Australia with his snooker adventure seemingly over. One morning he went to the local job centre. The queue was long, which gave him time to think. He knew he was good at snooker, he knew the odds were loaded against him but he wanted to make a go of it.
He won the world under 21 title, re-joined the tour and settled in Cambridge, which became a base from which to work on improving all aspects of his game. Watching him celebrating after the final on Sunday with the family he has made – his wife, Mille, and their children, Alexander and Penelope – would have melted the coldest of hearts.
The final was not the classic we may have wished for but Robertson’s victory still seemed a fitting end to a truly special week on the green baize.
The Masters was a triumph for World Snooker Tour, who brilliantly staged a first class event which foregrounded the game as a thoroughly modern sport, closer to the ATP Tour tennis finals than the average snooker tournament.
Players fell over themselves to praise the set-up and large, enthusiastic audiences created the impression that this was the hottest ticket in town.
The lesson from Ally Pally is that snooker doesn’t need gimmicks to thrive. It needs more well promoted tournaments in proper venues. It needs events to feel like occasions.
Judd Trump, the leading moderniser among the players, has long believed the sport can make more of itself, particularly in connecting with younger fans. He finds the formal dress code old fashioned, has various ideas for how snooker can improve its image and is annoyed by a perceived lack of interest from the powers that be. “No one seems to want to listen or pay attention to what players have to say,” Trump told Metro online last week.
The reality for WST is that opinions amongst the players differ wildly, usually depending on where they are ranked and therefore what is best for them personally. For instance, many down the rankings are more worried about the distribution of prize money than what they are wearing.
Charged with promoting the professional tour, WST must also be mindful of the wishes of broadcasters and sponsors who are after all bankrolling the circuit. Players do not always appreciate the demands made by these entities, although they often benefit from them.
Even so, Trump’s zeal for innovation cannot be faulted, regardless of whether you agree with his specific ideas. After he played in the US Open 9-ball pool event last summer he travelled to Seattle for a snooker exhibition, showcasing the game in an untapped market. The exhibition shots he routinely plays have penetrated the timeline scrolling of more casual sports followers.
Last year, he attracted the considerable ire of traditional snooker fans by suggesting the World Championship had outgrown the Crucible. This is sacrilegious talk for many but reflects Trump’s view that snooker should be more confident in its ambitions for growth.
Judd Trump in his Masters semi-final against Barry Hawkins
Image credit: Eurosport
There are few more ambitious than Barry Hearn, the irrepressible businessman who saved the professional game from a slow death when he took over the reins of WST in 2010. He has retired as chairman but remains Matchroom president and a hands-on presence across all its sports. He was in the arena after Sunday’s final beaming from ear to ear, rightly proud of his team for a job well done.
Hearn is 73 but young in his outlook and has embraced the modern online world. There was a time when ‘social media’ at snooker tournaments meant getting hammered in the hotel bar with journalists. In recent times, WST has built up a substantial following across its social platforms. Its new TikTok account has become an instant hit, even if many of the old guard think this is a reference to a shot-clock.
These are avenues that did not exist in the past but which are vital to the future. They bring new sources of revenue into the game and appeal to a younger demographic.
All of this is important but what ultimately sells the game is the game itself. Put the best players in the world in an imposing venue in a major city and snooker shines. What we witnessed at Alexandra Palace was a sport making the most of its potential.
Not every event has the advantages of the history enjoyed by the Masters, but the aspiration should be to give the rest of the circuit a similar uplift.
Trump lost in the semi-finals but was still radiant with praise for the week, tweeting: “Apart from the 2011 world champs I think that was the best week of snooker I’ve ever experienced… Snooker is on the up.”
As for Robertson, he can be rightly proud of his latest triumph. His journey to the top is summed up by the manner in which he won his semi-final against Mark Williams following one of the most extraordinary deciding frames ever seen at the Masters.
Afterwards, emotionally spent but still resilient, the Australian uttered words which have underpinned his whole career: “Never give up.”
Churchill himself couldn’t have put it better.
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The moment Neil Robertson won the Masters
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