“The best match of my career, for sure,” is how Neil Robertson describes his final defeat of Judd Trump at last year’s Champion of Champions, as he looks ahead to defending the title next week.
The Australian edged out Trump 10-9 in one of snooker’s all time classic battles a year ago. The match featured eight centuries, and concluded in dramatic fashion as Robertson snatched the penultimate frame after needing a snooker, then made a 137 total clearance in the decider.
“I think most people who follow snooker would rate it as one of the best matches they have seen,” said 38-year-old Robertson. “I also beat a lot of great players to get to the final last year.
“I rate the Champion of Champions as the fourth biggest event, after the World Championship, the UK Championship and the Masters. Everyone in it has won tournaments, plus it’s the one table set up from the start. No one comes in under the radar, to get to the final you have to really earn it in every match.”
Trump took revenge at the recent Matchroom.Live English Open when he beat Robertson 9-8 in another superb final. On that occasion it was Trump’s turn to seal victory with a century as he made a 114 in the decider.
Robertson and Trump, alongside Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby, have been the outstanding four players of recent years. Since the start of the 2016/17 season, they have collected 47 titles between them. Robertson believes they are separated from the pack not just by their natural talent, but their determination to challenge for silverware week after week.
Titles won since start of 2016/17 season
Judd Trump 14
Ronnie O’Sullivan 13
Mark Selby 11
Neil Robertson 9
John Higgins 6
Mark Williams 5
Shaun Murphy 4
Ding Junhui 4
Stuart Bingham 4
“Winning multiple events in a season takes something special, it’s about hunger and desire,” said the world number three. “That’s what I most admire about Judd – he wins a tournament and then the following week he’s desperate to win again. Other players might be satisfied just with one trophy and then relax for the rest of the season. I think Ronnie, Mark and myself are the same as Judd.
“When I win a title I don’t make a big deal out of it, I just want to get to the next event. That showed when I reached three finals in a row last season, and four in a row the previous season. It takes something within you, which perhaps not everyone has. My motivation to practise is always going to be there because those other great players are around and there are many more trying to break through and win tournaments.”
Playing events behind closed doors has not affected the likelihood of the best players dominating – indeed the English Open was the first ever ranking event to feature a semi-final line-up with four players who have completed the Triple Crown.
“We’re seeing a few surprise results early on in events but then by the time we get to the later stages the line-ups are very strong,” said Robertson. “The top players will always find a way to overcome challenges and that’s what we are seeing. It’s great for the fans watching at home because they want to see the big names going head to head.
“At first I found it hard to get used to playing without a crowd. But then at the World Championship I didn’t struggle for motivation at all, it still felt like the Crucible. And I have felt the same at the tournaments so far this season, I have really been up for them. I had 12 centuries at the English Open which reflects the enthusiasm and form I had that week. When you look around the world at people losing their jobs and facing so many problems, I feel very grateful to still be able to play in snooker events.”
Robertson starts the defence of his Champion of Champions title on Monday afternoon against legend Jimmy White, the World Seniors Champion. Taking on the Whirlwind brings back memories for the Melbourne native as he faced White on his television debut at the 2004 Masters at Wembley, losing 6-2.
“That was a terrifying experience for me at the time because there were 2,5000 Londoners screaming for Jimmy,” Robertson recalls. “This time will be a bit different with just myself, Jimmy and the referee in the room. It’s always a special occasion playing Jimmy, I get along with him really well. He is one of the reasons I got into snooker in the first place.”
Running from November 2 to 8, the Champion of Champions will be broadcast live on ITV4 in the UK, and on global broadcast partners including DAZN and Matchroom.live