Snookerbacker

July 23, 2020

In Conversation With……Neil Robertson

Filed under: snookerbacker @ 3:29 pm

When I arranged the other day to give Robbo a call for a chat at 10am sharp this morning I knew, given his legendary organisational skills, that he’d be ready on the dot. 

It turns out that this was rather speculative on my part when on answering he said ‘Hello?’ to which I responded ‘Neil it’s SB’ ‘Hey?’ ‘SB….you’ve forgotten haven’t you?’ ‘Aaaahh, yep I had sorry, just switched the iron on’

But being the accommodating chap he is he dropped everything, well hopefully not the iron, and our chinwag commenced. I asked him about his experience of lockdown, how he feels World Snooker have conducted things since they came back, his chances at The Crucible and a whole lot more….

SB: So Neil, how has lockdown been for you?

NR: Not too bad actually, it started towards the end of our season anyway with China being cancelled. I’d actually driven to Llandudno to play Ding when I got a call in the morning to say the tournament had been called off, could have saved me a drive, but I kind of thought even then that this could be for a few weeks, so I bought myself a fitness bike as although I am pretty healthy, I wanted to work on my physical fitness to help me with my game. As it looked like we were not going anywhere for a few months it seemed a good time to do it. There isn’t really anything on the table I can do to improve and I think with the top players once you’ve had around an hour and a half of practice you kind of start to get diminishing returns in what you can improve on as a snooker player but there is a lot you can do with diet and fitness to give you an edge, so that’s what I did.

I also played a lot of football with my son and spent a lot of time with Penelope and Mille. I gained a real understanding of all the things that are going on when I’m away travelling and really appreciate how hard it must be at times with the early mornings….

SB: You mean a proper job?

NR: Haha yeah, I’m like, please can I get back to practice? But the lockdown came at a good time for Mille too as I’d been away a lot having made the three finals on the trot after The Masters. I was really drained too as after I’d won the Grand Prix I had to go straight to the Welsh Open which I didn’t really want to play in, not because of the tournament as it’s a great event and I was defending champion, but having played for three weeks solid and made the three finals it’s a bit like going all the way in the World Championship and I was just spent. I got to the quarter finals but I don’t really know how. So yeah, in a way the lockdown has come at a good time for me and I’ve been able to use it in a positive way.

SB: Did you miss practising?

NR: For the first few weeks yes, my club was completely closed and I couldn’t get in there and after a while you start to worry a bit so I said to Django (Fung, Neil’s manager) that I really needed to start playing a bit so he let Judd and I use his office on alternate days, we didn’t see each other and there was only ever me or Judd there at any one time and we were both following all the guidelines, it’s not like I was driving to the beach or anything!

SB: To test your eyesight…

NR: Haha, no, nothing like that. The thing is you can’t just stop playing for four months and expect to pick it up where you left off. When you go back you might pick up a bad habit in your technique that takes time to iron out. I think you are seeing some of that in the qualifiers at the moment as the standard doesn’t seem so high just yet does it?

SB: Been watching the qualifiers?

NR: A bit yeah, I watched Jimmy the other day. I think the venue looks great on TV. I think snooker does well out of all this in terms of the way it looks on TV. When I played in the Championship League it was interesting to see what it could be like moving forward and I have to say that World Snooker have done an amazing job, that venue was incredible even with no crowd. But as for that horrendous test we have to do….

SB: I was going to ask you about that, just explain it?

NR: Well they have this swab which is like, nearly twice the length of your finger and first they put it down your throat so it touches your tonsils and then comes the gag reflex, then if that isn’t bad enough they ram one up your nose until it feels like it’s touching your brain, it’s just awful. The second time I had it at the Tour Championship I was in the middle of the second bit with my eyes watering everywhere and I sneezed and it dropped on the floor so I had to start all over again, I couldn’t stop sneezing. John Higgins was just around the corner and all he could hear was me gagging, spluttering and sneezing and when I’d finished he just looked at me and said ‘I think I’ll just go back to the car park and go home’.

SB: How do you feel about all this ‘bubble’ thing and being confined to barracks when you are at the tournament?

NR: The set up at Milton Keynes was amazing and they couldn’t have done it better. Every hour and a half or so they’d send up a snack box to your room and then you’d get your proper meal, they took everyone’s dietary requirements.

SB: So as a fellow weird vegan guy, what was it like?

NR: It was actually really good, I was very surprised.

SB: What kind of grub did they serve up?

NR: All sorts of things like wraps, curries, I had no complaints.

SB: They usually just lob falafels at us don’t they?

NR: Haha yeah, I thought when I was going in is it all going to be falafels and salad but it was really good. They’d sectioned off two storeys of the hotel for players and staff and had a taped area which you had to follow to walk to your match, it was all a bit surreal but very well organised. The only thing I found a bit silly was not being able to open our hotel window as we all need some fresh air. I don’t know if this will be the same in Sheffield as I haven’t read the pack yet so don’t know how strict it will be now. One thing I don’t agree with is that they are going to re-test the quarter finalists and if any of them fail they will be thrown out of the championship, which I think is pretty brutal and I’m sure will stop players wanting to go outside at all during the championship.

SB: Turning to Sheffield, I know you are pleased that there is going to be some sort of crowd in there, unlike Ronnie. How do you think it would have been had there been no crowd?

NR: When I played Maguire at the last event I’m glad after he beat me he said it was just like a practice session because that is exactly how it felt. We both felt like it was an exhibition, I lost the match with 98% pot success rate and he played brilliantly to beat me, but there was no pressure. Even in that match where I’d sit there and usually think, I’ve put him under pressure here and the audience are doing their ooo’s and aahh’s but in reality there was none. With that event because it was only top players there are also no financial pressures, we all just got along and used it as a way to get snooker back on the TV again but it lacked a competitive edge for me and I’d hate for that to happen in Sheffield.

SB: A bit like the football?

NR: I’d be interested to hear what some of the top footballers really think about there not being a crowd, as a TV spectacle it’s just not the same at all. Usually when I’m watching Chelsea I’d have it on louder and louder but now it’s just kind of on in the background while I’m doing something else. In terms of The Crucible, going into the World Championship you’d usually narrow down the list of possible winners to around 6 or 7 but with no crowd I think that number doubles. Once you get down to the one table, which I know I’m overdue being back at again, there are only a small number of players that can win it from there with 1000 people in The Crucible watching on, take that away and it’s a massive leveller. It’s like someone like Ronnie, once he gets to the one table in any event more often than not he’ll finish the job and the crowd has a lot to do with that. He thrives in that situation and I like to think I do too. In a smaller crowd your opponent can still feel under pressure if you are really giving them a beating but they don’t get embarrassed and uncomfortable so it’s a different level of pressure you can apply with a big crowd watching on.

SB: Are there any qualifiers that you’d quite like to avoid in Sheffield?

NR: Joe (Perry) is the obvious one. It’s funny as we’ve managed to avoid each other every single year so I’m kind of waiting for it, now I’ve said it to you it will probably happen. But really I don’t mind who I play first, I’ve been working on one element of my game which I felt might have let me down there in the past, I’ve played Rob Milkins there a couple of times and he has outdone me in the safety department so I need to concentrate on that and not just rely on my scoring kicking in. When you get to the longer matches you get a chance to settle and I generally trust myself in those to eventually find my first gear and start scoring heavily but in the first round you don’t get that time. I think I need to improve on that and make it harder for my opponents from the off, I can’t keep making excuses like bad luck or bad draw for not doing better there than I have. You can’t just win it by free scoring all the time, even Judd last year had to tailor his game and his safety was a big reason why he won it.

SB: So you rate your chances this year?

NR: Yeah, I’ve done all I can in terms of getting myself physically fit and tweaking parts of my game, practice is going well. There’s no excuses like ‘had a long hard season’ which perhaps in the past I’ve subconsciously thought, maybe in the past my mind has said ‘it’s ok to lose, you’ve had a good season’, not that I have been thinking that but when your subconscious starts knocking at the door that’s when you can lose a bit of focus. I think that might have happened to me last year against John.

SB: One final random question from my mate Dec. He asked me to ask you if the Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Hong Kong the best venue you have ever played in?

NR: Is that where I beat Ronnie in the final? Well, that is an experience I don’t think I’ll ever have again in snooker. 3000 people there for every match, constant noise, cheering even the most basic shot. The closest we get to it now is in the Tempodrome which is awesome but this place, it’s the best I’ve ever played in for sure.

SB: Well thanks for your time Neil and best of luck in Sheffield. I hope that’s not your Crucible shirt under that iron…..careless.

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