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World number two Neil Robertson feels recharged as snooker prepares to return to our screens

When the coronavirus pandemic halted all sport in mid-March, Bottisham-based Neil Robertson was one of snooker’s most in-form players.

The world number two had already scooped the Champion of Champions, World Grand Prix and European Masters titles in 2019/20 – form that left him among the front runners to add a second season-ending World Snooker Championship crown to his impressive collection of prizes.

Momentum, it would have appeared, was very much with the Australian. But he believes the enforced break may have come at just the right time.

Neil Robertson. Picture: DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0 (35245118)
Neil Robertson. Picture: DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0 (35245118)

Robertson has still been able to practice a couple of times a week, but crucially he was able to switch off from the rigours of professional sport and spend time with his young family.

“It has been good to spend time with the family and I have still been able to practice a little bit as well,” said the 38-year-old.

“Our seasons are long, especially if you are doing well. I had a brilliant 2020 before the lockdown, and the positive of that is you are winning, but the negative is you do not see your family much.

“I miss so many of my son Alexander’s football matches. It’s hard when all of the other parents are on the sidelines watching. I know those matches have obviously now been cancelled, but I have at least been able to get out in the garden to play football with him more often.

“And our daughter Penelope turned one not long ago, so I can help with her and let my wife catch up on some much needed sleep.

“I won two ranking events and reached the final of another in a run of three weeks earlier this year. Those finals were all in different countries, and that has never been done before.

“It left me feeling jaded mentally and when I lost to Joe Perry in the last 16 (of the Players Championship in February) I was feeling like I needed a spell out.

“In that sense it has come at a good time and allowed me to get refocused and chill out a little bit.”

The World Championships – hosted at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield – have been rescheduled to start on July 31, while the sport is set to resume on Monday at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes with the Championship League.

Strict health measures will be in place, and no supporters will be permitted access to the venue – something Robertson believes will make for a more even playing field.

“The best players tend to thrive in front of the big crowds,” said the 2010 world champion.

“There are some players that would have won more tournaments if they were not played in front of crowds – it can make very good players crumble under the pressure.

“The fact that there will be no crowds will make it tougher to win matches.

“Think of a football team going to Old Trafford to play in front of 75,000 supporters, and then all of a sudden that is taken away. There is no such thing as home advantage.

“That is going to happen in the football soon and it will be similar when the crowds are not at our matches, in terms of its impact.

“This stoppage also means everyone has had a hard reset and form has gone out of the window. There is no form guide to go by.

“Hopefully by the time we get to the World Championships we may be in a different place and a few fans will be allowed in. It would be very odd to play at the Crucible with no fans.”

The aforementioned Championship League – featuring 64-players in round-robin groups – is not necessarily a tournament Robertson would traditionally opt to enter.

But with the event due to be screened on ITV – and few other sports back in action – the Melbourne-born left-hander feels snooker has a major chance to capture the attention of a new audience.

“It is almost like a trial event. As long as it is safe to do so – which it appears to be – then it is important for snooker to get back as soon as we can,” he said.

“It is not necessarily an event the likes of myself and Judd (Trump, world number one) would play, but it is important we support it and help to give the public some live content.

“We were due to play a tournament after a lot of other sports had been shut down.

“We ended up being cancelled on the day on safety grounds, but a lot of people who do not usually watch snooker were saying they planned to tune in because there was no other sport to watch.

“There are a lot of sport-starved fans out there having to watch re-runs, but Barry (Hearn, chairman of the World Snooker Tour) has been very quick to act even though he recently had a mild heart attack!

“He deserves a lot of credit for driving this and the sport should make the most of the opportunity.”