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Thunder Strikes Grand Prix Glory

Australia’s Neil Robertson became the most successful player from outside Britain & Ireland in snooker history by beating Ding Junhui 9-4 in the final of the Grand Prix in Glasgow.

It’s Robertson’s second Grand Prix crown and his fourth ranking title in all, moving him one ahead of Ding and Thailand’s James Wattana on the all-time list. The 27-year-old left-hander, nicknamed the Thunder from Down Under, lifted the trophy and pocketed a cheque for £75,000 at a packed Kelvin Hall.

In the first ranking final between two non-British players since Silvino Francisco beat Kirk Stevens to win the 1985 British Open, Robertson struggled to pull away from Ding until he won a crucial 57-minute ninth frame, which seemed to warp the Chinese player’s resolve. Robertson went on to take the last four frames and has now won all four of the ranking finals he has contested.

It’s the first time he has beaten a top 16 ranked player in a final, having previously won the 2006 Grand Prix against Jamie Cope, the 2007 Welsh Open against Andrew Higginson and the 2008 Bahrain Championship against Matthew Stevens. He becomes the seventh player, after Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Stephen Lee and Mark Williams, to win the Grand Prix more than once.

World No 9 Robertson started the week slowly, falling 3-1 down to Gerard Greene in his opening match before coming back to win 5-3, then improved as the tournament went on and scored a sensational 6-5 victory on the final black against Higgins yesterday. He finished the event with seven centuries, bringing his career total to 100. As well as top-draw break-building and seemingly laser-guided long potting, Robertson also has a very solid safety game, and could emerge as the leading challenger to Higgins and O’Sullivan as snooker’s most potent forces.

The Antipodean, orginally from Melbourne and now based in Cambridge, who finished last season by reaching the semi-finals at the Crucible, is indeed up to third, behind O’Sullivan and Higgins, in the latest world rankings.

Though Ding tasted defeat in a ranking final for the first time, the 22-year-old from Wuxi has plenty of positives to take back to his Sheffield base. He had not previously reached a ranking semi for 38 months, but now has renewed confidence to take into the rest of the season, and stands ninth in the provisional list.

Ding took control of the first frame this evening with a break of 48 and despite missing an easy yellow, got another chance and added 47 to level the match at 4-4.

Frame nine was a marathon, clocking 57 minutes and 18 seconds. Ding got the snooker he required on the brown but then, after a safety battle, missed an easy pot to a top corner with the rest and Robertson executed superb pots on brown, blue and pink to regain the lead. Clenching his fist as he walked out of the arena, Roberton sensed that a pivotal moment had gone in his favour.

The Aussie opened a two-frame gap for the first time since 2-0 thanks to runs of 29 and 36 in a fragmented 10th. Ding led 30-0 in the next when he missed a short range red, albeit with awkward cueing. Robertson built a 54-34 lead, then, after a tactical exchange, slotted in a plant on the 12th red and added the points he needed for a 7-4 interval advantage.

The key ball in frame 12 was a missed pink to a centre pocket from Ding at 21-26. Robertson made a handy 32, including a double on the penultimate red to a centre pocket, to go four up with five to play. And the blonde bombshell struck the final blow in the next frame with a composed 89 to seal victory.