Recently crowned Masters champion Neil Robertson hopes that the upcoming trip to Berlin for the BildBet German Masters will act as another significant step back towards normality on the World Snooker Tour.
It’s been two years since the event was hosted at its spiritual home, the iconic Tempodrom in the German capital. The 2021 edition was forced behind closed doors in Milton Keynes due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 2020 final saw Robertson take on familiar foe Judd Trump in the title match, losing out by a 9-6 scoreline in a fiercely contested encounter. The Australian is now looking forward to returning to Germany in a bid to land the title for the first time. He faces Ricky Walden in the opening round on Wednesday evening.
Robertson is full of confidence having secured the second Masters title of his career with an emphatic 10-4 defeat of Barry Hawkins in the final earlier this month. The win came ten years after he first landed snooker’s most prestigious invitational prize back in 2012. He has since lost two finals in 2013 and 2015.
We caught up with Robertson to look back on his Masters triumph and ahead to the upcoming week in Germany…
Neil, having had time to reflect on your win at Alexandra Palace, how highly would you place it in your list of career victories?
“It was absolutely massive. I think because I’d lost my previous two Masters finals, I didn’t want to make it one win from three. Also just to win another Triple Crown event was great. I won the UK Championship last season and to win the Masters this year was fantastic. I want to keep that consistent level of performance going in the biggest events.
“The most important thing is to make it count when you get the chance. You can’t win a semi-final, like the one I did, and not go on to win the final. It would feel wasted. Barry was a little bit tired after his semi-final with Judd. He made a couple of crucial errors which allowed me to get that 5-3 lead after the first session. I felt really good at that point and I felt I played my best snooker to take the match away from him. My long potting was a big factor in that.”
Your semi-final with Mark Williams was one which will live long in the memory, after you came from needing two snookers in the decider to win 6-5. In your interview afterwards you urged people watching to never give up on their endeavours. How important is it for you to inspire others with your performances on the table?
“I think it is something that I’ve really learned as a dad. You always try to set the best example for your kids. I probably take that role when I talk to the media as well. I know there are a lot of kids that watch this sport. Alexander’s friends at school are always coming up to me and saying they’ve watched my matches. I think every moment you can inspire other people in their lives, it is important to do it. It shows those really good qualities, that is the reason Paul Hunter was loved so much. If you are in the spotlight it is important not to give up when the going gets tough and I think that sends out a really positive message to anyone watching.
“I had people who don’t particularly watch snooker messaging me about my semi-final with Mark Williams. They were saying they couldn’t take their eyes off the decider. I think the crowd had a huge impact on that. They made it look very appealing to watch. When you switch on a sporting event and see a large and loud crowd enjoying themselves it makes you think that there is something to it. Both semi-finals served up a fantastic showing of snooker and I believe the sport gained a lot of fans from it. The other important factor was that the matches were played in the right way. The players need to understand that. If you are lower ranked and struggling for a living I understand why you may feel the need to play differently. However, a top 16 event tends to be played in the right manner. All of the matches at the Masters were fast paced, attacking and attractive to watch.”
You also said that you think players either crumble or thrive when playing in front of big crowds like that. What is it about your personality which allows you to deal with the biggest occasions so well?
“The really great players love playing in front of those crowds. Some people maybe do get scared. If a surprising miss happens then people like myself or Mark Williams are capable of deleting it straight away, not many players are capable of doing that. They can feel a little bit embarrassed. Performing in front of crowds is something I’ve always liked. There is no real special formula or solution. It comes from within to be able to produce the goods under the utmost pressure.
“You have to look at how great a job everyone at WST did to put it on having come through tricky times with Covid. The fans were also so willing to come out and support the event. We have been gaining fans rather than losing them which is amazing. We need to temper expectations as this is the Masters. We can’t all of a sudden expect every event to not have a seat available. However, as long as the big events keep growing and in turn pull the smaller events up in the right direction, then we are on the right track to getting more of these events where the players feel really special.”
This week’s German Masters will be the first event outside of Britain since the Gibraltar Open in 2020. How important do you think it is that the tour returns to a more global outlook?
“Hopefully this is the start of us travelling around the world for events again. There is no better way to kick that off than this tournament. I’m really excited to get out there. It is an awesome atmosphere at the Tempodrom. It is a venue that every player really enjoys going to. I just hope that again the public support the tournament and the public are comfortable coming back. When we have a full arena there it is one of the best experiences you can have as a player.”
When you competed in the 2020 semi-finals you said in an interview that you felt like Russell Crowe in Gladiator. In turn he tweeted to wish you good luck in the final. How surprised were you to see his message?
“His good luck message on Twitter was so cool. I screenshotted it straight away. Gladiator is one of my favourite films of all time and it was amazing to get that from him. It’s funny how certain things you say filter around and how famous people can see them. I think Gladiator has to be in the top five one off films. It is always in the conversation when people talk of their all-time movies. Gladiator and Shawshank Redemption are two of the films that always come to my mind. It really is like Gladiator at the Tempodrom. All of the fans are around you and all eyes are on you. That is a very enjoyable environment to play in.”
It is well documented you haven’t won the World Championship since 2010. Is that event your main focus now for the rest of the season?
“Plans have already been put in place looking towards the World Championship. The day after the Masters finished I started planning to make sure it is the best I’ve ever prepared for the World Championship. I’ve got what I feel is the right team to give myself an opportunity to win it. I’m not going to leave it until two weeks before and have to book my fifth choice hotel this time. I’m putting everything in place before that. I’m going to be giving it a really good crack this year. I feel that I am leaving no stone unturned.”
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