Neil Robertson held his nerve in a tense finish to score a 9-7 victory over Matthew Stevens in the final of the Bahrain Snooker Championship.
Australia’s Robertson won the third ranking title of his career and his first since a brace of wins during his superb 2006/07 season.
The flamboyant, flame-haired left-hander subseqently suffered a dip in form which saw him plummet to 21st in the provisional rankings. But he has looked very much back to his best this week, particularly since the quarter-finals when he dismissed Stephen Maguire.
The best long potter in the world when his radar is fully functional, Robertson is also an outstanding break-builder with a solid safety game. Perhaps his best asset, though, is his mental toughness and ability to raise his game under pressure. After a blistering start today which saw him make breaks of 129, 117, 96, 68 and 75 in going 4-1 ahead he lost six out of eight to go 7-6 down.
But the 26-year-old bounced back to win the last three frames, taking the £48,000 winner’s cheque and the trophy in the first ranking tournament ever staged in the Kingdom of Bahrain.
It was reminiscent of the 2007 Welsh Open final when Robertson lost six straight frames to Andrew Higginson, but recovered to win the last three for a 9-8 success.
The only Australian ever to win a ranking title, he seems destined for many years of success in the sport, and is fast-becoming a role model who could boost the popularity of snooker in the antipodes.
His family back in Melbourne, as well as his friends in Cambridge where he lives during the season, will have been anxiously following the score of a match which ran until 12.40am local time.
Stevens, though he has won two of snooker’s biggest titles in the UK Championship and the Masters, remain’s one of the sport’s ‘nearly men’, having lost six of his seven ranking finals. However, the Carmarthen cueman will take great encouragement from reaching his first final since 2005, and a jump of 11 places in the latest rankings to 22nd. The Welshman has regained his enthusiasm for practice, and, at 31, may feel that his best years are still ahead of him.
Robertson led 4-3 after the opening session and started this evening’s climax with a break of 63. Stevens had a chance to force a respot, but missed a tough final black, the cue ball tight to the side cushion. He had another opportunity from long range but failed again, and Robertson slotted home the black before pumping his fist having gained the early momentum.
But the Aussie missed a chance to steal the next frame when he failed with a tricky pot on the final yellow, Stevens clearing to stay within reach. And he drew level in the next with a well-constructed 71.
Frame 11 was a fragmented affair lasting nearly 32 minutes. Stevens played a poor safety on the last red, allowing Robertson to convert a thin cut to a baulk corner and clear to the pink. Stevens once again bounced back strongly with a break of 110 for 6-6.
The 13th frame was a marathon at 64 minutes. After Stevens missed on 52, Robertson got the two snookers he needed on the green, but then Stevens fluked the green. Long safety battles on the brown and blue ensued, before Robertson played a poor safety and left the blue over a middle pocket. Stevens raised his cue to a cheer from the crowd as the frame was finally completed.
Robertson led 57-38 in the crucial 14th frame when he made a safety error on the last red. Stevens cleared to the pink but then missed a tricky black along the side cushion to a blind pocket. The cue ball finished awkwardly on the opposite rail, but Robertson knocked in the black for 7-7.
The Aussie dominated the 15th frame, compiling runs of 53 and 39, to go one up with two to play.
After a bout of safety in the 16th which left most of the balls in the baulk half of the table, Robertson got his chance and made a composed 56, his eighth break over 50 in the match. And when he guided home another long red to initiate a run of 21, the handshake followed.