From the moment Neil Robertson completed his incredible revival to beat Mark Williams in the semi-final, it felt like his name was on the Paul Hunter Trophy. The Australian trailed 5-3 to the Welshman, and needed two snookers in the deciding frame, but fought back to book his spot in the final and shock those betting on snooker at Betfair.
From there, it felt like a procession to the trophy. Barry Hawkins simply didn’t turn up in the final, failing to punish Robertson’s mistakes as he allowed the world number four to stroll to a 10-4 victory. As Robertson lifted the trophy high above his head, and the tickertape fell like snowflakes all around Alexandra Palace, it confirmed the latest step on Robertson’s quest to truly assert himself as one of snooker’s all-time greats.
This was his second Masters title, adding to the 2012 victory he secured in the tournament’s first year at the North London venue, and when you add his solitary World Championship triumph, and his three UK Championship titles, Robertson’s total of six so-called Triple Crown titles still sees him sitting a level below the game’s most proficient winners.
There are six players ahead of Robertson in the list of Triple Crown event winners — Ronnie O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, John Higgins, Mark Selby and Mark Williams — and you sense that a man of Robertson’s supreme talent should have amassed more of these big titles by now.
It’s been well documented that he has suffered a bit of a mental block at the World Championship since he won the title back in 2010, having only made it to the semi-final one-table setup on one occasion in the intervening years.
Robertson is clearly one of the game’s most strident players in terms of pacing around the table and taking steps back to analyse things, has struggled with the close confines of the Crucible Theatre, where space is at a premium and spectators are practically breathing down the players’ throats.
With this victory at the Masters coming hot on the heels of Robertson’s UK Championship win in 2020, the pressure is building for the Australian to add a second world title and become the 13th player in history to win the game’s biggest prize on more than one occasion. He’ll head to the Crucible this year as one of the favourites in the snooker predictions, and it will be interesting to see if he can overcome the painful memories of past defeats.
In each of the last three editions of the World Championship, the Australian has exited at the quarter-final stage, losing to John Higgins in 2019, Mark Selby in 2020 and Kyren Wilson in 2021. In all of those matches, Robertson got too caught up in trying to outsmart his more tactical-minded opponents, and in doing so lost his rhythm and flow.
As he heads to Sheffield this year, the 39-year-old will be full of confidence that this might be the time to turn his poor record at the Crucible on its head. His Masters triumph was defined by some truly memorable performances – a scintillating display to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals, monumental powers of recovery in the semis against Williams, and a supreme authoritative display to defeat Hawkins in the final.
This was Neil Robertson at his best, and he’ll take some stopping in the rest of this season’s big tournaments that still lie tantalisingly on the horizon.