Snooker: Long winding road to the top
Sunday 05 December 2010
Tournament organisers heave a sigh of relief when Neil Robertson, the world champion and world No 1, actually arrives at the venue as he did yesterday to take a 7-1 overnight lead over Rory McLeod in their best of 17 frames first round match in the 12BET UK Championship at Telford.
This 28 year-old Australian is as deadly a potter and possesses the most resolute of match temperaments but in his easygoing, at times vague, way he has revealed a propensity for shooting himself in the foot.
Twenty minutes before his match against Stephen Maguire at the Crucible in 2008 he was in a shoe shop because he had come to Sheffield with only the scruffy trainers he stood up in. With his new footwear pinching his feet, he dropped the first session 8-0 and was beaten 13-7.
In 2009 he was docked two frames for late arrival for a Championship League match, having made an unscheduled tour of rural Essex after getting lost between the tournament hotel and the venue.
Chatting to a fellow competitor before the 2009 Grand Prix in Glasgow, he was informed that he had misread the order of play and that he was due to play at the time he had planned to travel up. He won the tournament. In last season's elite Premier League, he allowed two hours to be driven to Preston from his Cambridge base so that he could settle in and have a rest before playing. Arriving in a fluster 10 minutes before his match was due on air, he folded to John Higgins.
His pièce de résistance, though, which convinced some that he should be allowed out only if accompanied by a responsible adult, occurred in the Premier League last month.
As his was the second match of the evening, he booked train tickets to arrive in Llandudno at 7:30pm, the start time for match 1. He caught the train at Cambridge only to discover at Ely that he was on the wrong one, travelling in the wrong direction. In turn, he missed his connection at Euston and had to ring through the worrying news that he would not be arriving at Llandudno Junction, four miles from the venue, until 9:40.
Fortunately, Ronnie O'Sullivan's 5-1 win over Mark Selby not only took longer than expected but gave Robertson an unexpected chance to qualifyfor the play-offs on frames difference if he could beat Shaun Murphy.
Having changed into his dress suit on the train, he was collected at the station, driven to the venue just in time to avoid a delay on Sky... and played brilliantly, making two centuries in beating Murphy 4-2.
His off table adventures provide a striking contrast to the intensity of his on-table dedication to his craft. It took exceptional resilience to base himself so far from home when he was 16, when he first played on the tour. He endured homesickness, lack of success and relegation but won the Oceania play-offs to get back on the circuit two years later.
Once, he was so broke that he had to borrow a waistcoat because he could not afford to buy one and he was again relegated but by winning the world under-21 title earned his third chance and at last began his long climb to No 1, winning six ranking titles on the way.
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