Graeme Dott: Ready to take on the world again

He lost his mentor to cancer, his wife miscarried and he was diagnosed with depression. Now the Scottish cueman has rediscovered his zest for life
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The Independent Online

Here is your starter for 147. Name the only player to have reached the final of the World Snooker Championship three times since 2004. Ronnie O'Sullivan? No. John Higgins? Not even close. What about Peter Ebdon? Sorry. Well it must be Mark Selby then, surely? Keep going. Ah, got it. Shaun Murphy? Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Give yourself a pat on the back if you came up with Graeme Dott. The Scot lost to O'Sullivan in 2004, beat Ebdon in 2006 and lost to Neil Robertson last year in what even he admitted was a poor final. Dott has had a decent season, climbing the world rankings after a series of consistent performances. So why is it, then, that he hardly merits a mention when the nation's media speculates about who might be lifting the World Championship trophy aloft on 2 May? He is entitled to feel slightly peeved. Dott loves The Crucible because the longer format brings out the best in him, but he feels it's time for change.

"The standard of many recent finals has been awful, including last year when I played Neil Robertson," he said. "You don't need to be a genius to work out why: by the time you get to the final, you are dead on your feet. It takes it out of you mentally. We should follow the example set by tennis where the Wimbledon finalists get a rest day before returning to Centre Court."

The media may not recognise Dott's gifts, but his fellow professionals do. He is the player nobody wants to face in Sheffield because he never knows when he is beaten, and he is looking forward to his first-round match against Mark King, which gets under way on Tuesday. The 2006 world champion gets frustrated when people describe him as a slow player, because the facts tell a very different story.

"I've played my best snooker at The Crucible when I have attacked the balls and that is what I will be doing again this year," he said. "I know that the match against Mark is going to be tough and that he won't give me any easy frames, but this is exactly the sort of challenge I relish, and I am really looking forward to getting my campaign under way."

Ranked ninth in the world, Dott's journey has been a troubled one. When he won the world title in 2006, it appeared that he had everything. He arrived home in Larkhall to a hero's welcome and, with a £200,000 winner's cheque, paid off his mortgage. His wife Elaine and son Lewis were at his side when he beat Ebdon, as was his mentor, Alex Lambie, who was also his father-in-law.

What most people did not know was that Lambie had cancer and had only a few months to live. Dott, whose autobiography Frame Of Mind has just been published, regarded Lambie as a second father. Before playing in the 2006 UK Championship, Dott went to visit him in hospital. It was a distressing encounter, with both men aware that they probably would not see each other again. Sure enough, Lambie passed away while Dott was playing in the tournament.

Soon afterwards, Elaine discovered that she was pregnant. After the trauma the couple had been through, it was the news they wanted to hear, and all seemed set fair until she went for a routine scan. The doctors were concerned about some irregularities they had discovered and told her she would have to undergo further tests. The couple feared the worst, with Elaine convinced she had cancer.

An anxious time followed before she was finally given the all clear. But then she suffered a miscarriage; it happened while Dott was playing in The Masters at Wembley.

Through it all, Dott was playing the best snooker of his life and, at one point, threatened to claim top spot in the rankings. Then the wheels came off, in the most spectacular fashion.

Dott, who had spent all his waking hours living for snooker, could not be bothered to go to the practice table. But that was only the half of it. Elaine would go out and when she returned she would find her husband sitting in the same spot where she left him. He would get behind the wheel of his car and forget where he was going, or worse, would end up somewhere and not have the first idea how he got there. He wasn't even interested in watching his beloved Rangers.

He lost match after match and did not care, reaching the point where he dreaded getting into his car or boarding a plane that would take him to the next tournament because he knew he had no chance of winning. He tumbled down the rankings. If you are in the top 16, you are guaranteed entry into all the major tournaments. Fall outside and you have to qualify. It is a soul-destroying process.

Eventually, Graeme and Elaine sat down and talked long and hard. He was no longer the man that she had married. He knew it and so did she. He accepted that he needed help and agreed to go and see the family doctor, who diagnosed Dott as suffering from clinical depression.

He accepted the diagnosis; deep down, he already knew what was wrong with him. The only player to contact him and wish him well was O'Sullivan, who has fought inner demons all his life, and nearly pulled out of this year's championship because of his fragile mental state.

Dott began a course of anti-depressants and gradually began to feel better. But it was too late to save his season and he duly did fall out of the top 16. As a teenager he had loved playing in the qualifying tournaments. As a husband and father it was now his worst nightmare come true. But slowly he began to rediscover his appetite for the game. He had to, because now he had a baby daughter.

The 2009-10 season wasn't his best but he qualified for The Crucible and he knew that if he had a good run in the World Championship, he had a chance of climbing back into the cherished top 16. He reached the final, playing some of the best snooker of his career along the way, and finished the season ranked 13th.

"The final was awful because both of us were knackered, but I had achieved my goal," said Dott. "As far as my depression is concerned, it is something I will probably have to live with for the rest of my life, but I recognise the warning signs now and know when it is time to go back to the doctor and ask for more tablets."

Dott is entitled to feel hard done by when it comes to his treatment by the press. If you gauge form and class by a player's performance at the worlds, he has no peers over the past seven years. Don't be surprised to see him in another final this year.

'Frame of Mind: The Autobiography of the World Snooker Champion' by Graeme Dott is published by John Blake Publishing, £17.99

World championships

Neil Robertson became the latest victim of the infamous "Crucible curse" after losing to rising star Judd Trump at the World Championships last night.

No first-time winner has ever defended their title in Sheffield, and day one of the blue-riband event threw up an upset with Trump's 10-8 victory over the Australian.

The 21-year-old had risen to No 14 in the world with his breakthrough title at the China Open just a fortnight ago. The Bristol-born Trump wants to bring snooker to a new generation, and was confident enough to be tweeting at the mid-session interval about two frame-losing "twitches" despite trailing 7-6. But he then reeled off the four frames required to go through to the last 16 for the first time at the tournament.

He was hailed as a teen prodigy at 14 after he broke Ronnie O'Sullivan's record for being the youngest player to make a maximum 147 break. But he has had to wait to fulfil that promise.

"I have just got into Twitter, and I'll carry on doing it during matches," said Trump. "I knew I had missed two frame balls but I was confident I could hit back. I don't see any reason why I can't go and win the tournament now. I came here with high expectations.

Robertson said: "It's very disappointing, but I had a tough draw there, you make mistakes in the first round and Judd was good enough to take advantage. I'm not sure if he can win it this year, maybe in two or three years, but I can see him getting to the semis."

Hector Nunns

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