Your correspondent was in Sheffield this weekend for what was shaping up to be one of the great chapters in Australian sporting history, as the World Snooker Championships unfolded at the hideous Crucible Theatre.
Mind you, it was pointless, as a ticket for the match in question — Neil “The Melbourne machine” Robertson versus Rocket Ronnie O’Sullivan — couldn’t be had for love or money, and scalpers were offering them in the pub where I watched the first third of the 25-frame match.
Blond, fluffy-haired, 25-year-old Robertson looks like one of Donald Duck’s nephews, but he’s easily the best snooker player Australia has yet produced (Lindrum was a billiards man), and is in range of taking the world No.1 spot. In doing so, it’s inevitable that he would run into the saturnine O’Sullivan, by common consent the greatest natural talent the game has seen.
Sullivan has recorded countless century breaks and six of the seven fastest 147-point maximum breaks — including the fastest ever at five minutes, 20 seconds for the entire game. Only the fact that he’s wound tighter than Steve Tyler’s g-string — with numerous bouts of depression, dummy spits, therapy etc — makes it possible to beat him at all.
Unfortunately, Robertson — an extraordinarily accurate shooter, who can easily pot a red the length of the table and bring the cue ball back between two balls which are no more than a single ball width apart — also has a few rivets shaken loose. In his case, it’s the capacity for his concentration to suddenly come apart. You can see it go, after which he plays shots that would disgrace a holiday-house, round-robin comp in Rosebud.
Yesterday’s session was a case in point. Robertson dispatched O’Sullivan in the first frame in about nine minutes, with a 30-plus and 70-plus break that never gave O’Sullivan a chance. He returned the favour in the second frame, and then the third frame was a 35-minute slog in which Robertson, poised on victory, missed an easy 45-degree pot to the middle pocket, allowing O’Sullivan to take the frame and three more. Having been unable to get a break of more than a dozen points, Robertson won the seventh frame, only to fall apart again on another easy shot in the eighth, leaving O’Sullivan 6-2 ahead.
Though Robertson has beaten O’Sullivan previously, this one is the biggie. Indeed, Robertson’s reputation, as much as the title, is riding on it. Previously, his tendency to come apart has been chalked up to youth and immaturity. But 25 ain’t young in snooker, and it’s beginning to look like a deep character flaw that may keep him from joining the immortals. Is he the green baize’s Bradman or just another Fast Eddie Felsen? Tonight, we’ll find out.