Stephen Lee won his first ranking event for six years by beating Neil Robertson 4-0 at the Betfair Players Tour Championship Grand Finals.
The 37-year-old from Trowbridge outplayed Masters champion Robertson at the Bailey Allen Hall to win the trophy and £70,000 top prize. It’s the fifth ranking title of Lee’s career and first since the 2006 Welsh Open.
Lee dropped out of the world’s top 16 in 2008 and appeared to be in freefall down the rankings. But he has found a second wind in his career and is now pushing for a place among the top eight. Perhaps more than any other player, he has benefitted from the explosion in the number of tournaments on the snooker calendar over the past two years. By playing competitively week-in week-out, he has found fluency in his game and the results have followed.
Australia’s Robertson saw his perfect record in televised finals broken as he lost for the first time in ten attempts. The 30-year-old Cambridge-based potter had to settle for the runner-up prize of £35,000.
A tense 47-minute opening frame came down to the colours, and it went to Lee as he trapped his opponent in a snooker on the green and from the chance that followed potted green, brown and blue.
Robertson had two clear scoring chances early in the second frame, but first missed the pink with the rest, then a red to a top corner. His second miss let Lee in for a run of 52 which proved enough for 2-0.
Again Robertson had the first opportunity in frame three, but he scored just 22 before running out of position. He later played a weak safety which let Lee in for a run of 47. A fantastic long pot from Lee on the last red sealed the frame and brought him to the brink of victory.
A break of 66 in frame four put Lee close to the winning line, and he potted the match-ball penultimate red only to see the cue ball drop into the opposite corner. Robertson cleared up to force a respotted black, but after a safety exchange he left the black over a middle pocket and a relieved Lee slotted it home for victory.
“I didn’t let Neil get going, and in these short matches if you don’t settle in the first couple of frames then you can lose 4-0,” said Lee, who has been the world’s most consistent player in recent weeks and reached the final of the Haikou World Open earlier this month before losing 10-1 to Mark Allen. “It’s a cracking feeling, it makes all the hard work and travelling worthwhile.
“A big thanks goes to Barry Hearn because he’s got all the lads buzzing about the game again. I knew I was good enough, I just couldn’t cope with playing six tournaments a year. There was so much pressure on every event and it was a horrible feeling.
“The game is in a great situation now and I just wish I was ten years younger. I’ve got the belief in myself back and I’ve beaten top players which is very satisfying. I appreciate it more now I’m older.”
Robertson said: “The first frame set the tone, I had chances to win it but just couldn’t take them. All the other frames were similar, I just lost the cue ball or missed something tricky when I was in the balls. Stephen’s safety must be the best in the world at the moment and the way he’s been playing recently it would have been a travesty if he hadn’t won a tournament. Good on him because he looked dead and buried a few years ago but he has resurrected his career.
“It’s disappointing to lose a final but it doesn’t feel as bad as I thought it would. I’ve won nine out of ten finals which is still a good record.”
The Grand Finals was the culmination of the PTC series which featured 12 other tournaments across the UK and Europe.
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Wednesday March 14
5 Barry Hawkins 3-4 Jack Lisowski
7 Mark Davis 4-1 Tom Ford
1 Xiao Guodong 4-2 Dominic Dale
4 Martin Gould 1-4 Stephen Lee
8 Ricky Walden 4-0 Matthew Stevens
6 Fergal O’Brien 0-4 Joe Perry
Thursday March 15
3 Ben Woollaston 2-4 Ding Junhui
2 John Higgins 3-4 Jamie Jones
12 Michael Holt 1-4 Stephen Lee
13 Neil Robertson 4-1 Jack Lisowski
14 Graeme Dott 2-4 Joe Perry
Friday March 16
15 Stephen Maguire 4-2 Mark Davis
11 Mark Selby 4-1 Ding Junhui
9 Judd Trump 2-4 Xiao Guodong
10 Andrew Higginson 4-3 Jamie Jones
16 Ronnie O’Sullivan w/d Ricky Walden BYE
Saturday March 17
Stephen Maguire 4-3 Ricky Walden
Mark Selby 0-4 Stephen Lee
Xiao Guodong 1-4 Andrew Higginson
Neil Robertson 4-1 Joe Perry
Sunday March 18
Stephen Lee 4-2 Andrew Higginson
Stephen Maguire 0-4 Neil Robertson
Stephen Lee 4-0 Neil Robertson