World number 63 Jimmy Robertson required a deciding frame to keep his professional career alive at last season’s Betfred World Championship and he believes that work on his mental approach helped him over the line.
Bexhill-on-Sea cueman Robertson came into his qualifying clash with Zhao Jianbo back in April knowing that only a win would give him a chance to retain his professional status. At 3-0 down, while staring at relegation from the circuit, he pulled victory from the fire and emerged a 6-5 winner.
The tour survival context of the match came after a rankings slide occurred following his dramatic maiden ranking event victory at the 2018 European Masters. Robertson credits part of putting the breaks on that descent to working with a mind coach since the turn of the year.
We’ve caught up with Robertson to find out how he coped with the unique pressures he faced last season and look ahead to the upcoming campaign…
Jimmy, first of all how did it feel when you got over the line against Zhao Jianbo in that crucial tie in Sheffield?
“It was a massive relief. I still wasn’t safe even then, It was only a couple of days after that I knew I was alright. Everybody around me was winning, which was just a disaster. Normally, over the years, a lot of the seeds get beaten in round one. This year absolutely everyone was winning. I knew I had to win that game or I was out. Zhao Jianbo was absolutely unbelievable against me. I didn’t know too much about him, so I wasn’t sure what to think. All of a sudden I was 3-0 down and wasn’t at it with my game. I managed to claw it back and played a good decider. I was very proud of myself. On the whole, the season was shocking for me. I did the main thing, which I knew I needed to do towards the end and that was keep my tour card, so I could go again this season. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
What was the feeling like at 3-0 down in that game and how did you manage to keep yourself positive?
“It is the worst place ever. Snooker is one of the toughest sports. You are out there on your own and when your opponent is at the table, there is nothing you can do about it. You have to try and control your thoughts. From January, I’ve been working with a new mind coach. We’ve been speaking about lots of different things and situations and even if it only helped by 5% or 1%, that could have been the difference between winning and losing that game. I stayed positive. There is a lot of pressure out there and knowing that if you lose you are off the tour makes it way worse. I haven’t got a God given right to be higher up the rankings. I had a shocking year and that is what happens if you do that. I put myself in that position, nobody else. I’m looking forward to this season. Hopefully I’ll have a better one.”
Who is the mind coach you’ve been working with and what did he do to help you to turn things around?
“His name is AP O’Neill and he’s from Leeds. He got in contact with my dad about wanting to work with and help me. He’s worked in golf a lot and has watched snooker for a long time. I’m guessing he saw me as one of the names dropping down the rankings that he can try to help. It is alright trying to work with Judd Trump or Ronnie O’Sullivan, but they are at the top of the game anyway. I suppose he wanted to find people that needed his help and were struggling. I’ve never actually met him, but when I first started speaking to him I was in a lot of trouble. I lost a lot of first rounds. Winning a game in the Gibraltar Open, winning a game at the Welsh Open and winning a game at the World Championship just about kept me on. It was tough. The whole idea is to have the right things in my mind when things aren’t going well. I lost a lot of deciders last season and this is about staying in the right frame of mind in those difficult moments. What we were speaking about helped me and we are giving it a full season this year.”
Robertson became European Masters champion back in 2018.
Does the fact you didn’t quite cash in on the momentum generated by your European Masters victory add to the frustration of nearly falling off the circuit?
“It has been more frustrating having won a tournament and gone backwards. Last season was the worst that I’ve had for quite a few years, but on the other hand it is Covid times and we have lost a lot of events. One big run in those events we have missed out on could have completely changed things. I think after winning the European Masters, I perhaps took for granted a little bit that I should be doing better. It is disappointing that I haven’t moved forward. On the other side, I have won that tournament and I have the belief that if I get to the latter stages more often I can have more of those moments.”
How confident are you that you can go on a big run this season?
“I’ve always believed in what I can do. For so many seasons I will get beaten in a match, go home and put on the telly and wish that it was still in there playing. I know what I am capable of doing. I just haven’t got there yet. It has been quite frustrating, but it is just going to take a little more time and hard work. I have to change a couple of things and find that extra percentage. I’m also going to keep pushing on with running which I have started doing, I’ve got a mind coach and I’m working with new management with Curtis Braithwaite and Bobby Lee. Winning breeds confidence and the more matches I can win, then the more confidence I can get. Hopefully I can get on a roll this season.”