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In-form Bottisham star Neil Robertson has eyes on the big prize as the World Snooker Championship returns to the Crucible Theatre with reduced crowd

Neil Robertson is confident he has left no stone unturned in his bid to win a second World Snooker Championship title.

The Bottisham-based world number two, who got his hands on the prestigious trophy for the one and only time so far in 2010, begins his campaign at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Sunday against a qualifier.

Prior to the Covid-19 lockdown, the Australian was arguably the sport’s most in-form player after chalking up wins at the Champion of Champions, World Grand Prix and European Masters events.

Neil Robertson in action on the baize. Picture: DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0 (38975145)
Neil Robertson in action on the baize. Picture: DerHexer, Wikimedia Commons, CC-by-sa 4.0 (38975145)

And while that momentum may have been halted by the pandemic, Robertson believes he could not have done any more to prepare himself for the next couple of weeks.

“I was playing really well before the break, but it is the same for everyone,” said the 38-year-old.

“It’s possible (winning the World Championship). I feel like I have put myself into a position where I can win it.

Neil Robertson with his recent with his recent European Masters trophyPicture: WST (35290452)
Neil Robertson with his recent with his recent European Masters trophyPicture: WST (35290452)

“I’ve been exercising, I’ve been eating well and practice has been good – all the boxes are ticked.

“It would have maybe been good to practice against a wider variety of players, but with all of the restrictions, that hasn’t been possible.

“All in all, there isn’t much more I could have done.”

If Robertson is to repeat his success of a decade ago, it looks as though he will have to do it the hard way.

Providing he can negotiate his way his first round tie, he would then face Barry Hawkins, while Robertson is in the same side of the draw as Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby, and Shaun Murphy.

Nevertheless, due to the unpredictably of knockout snooker, the left-hander is refusing to get too caught up with who he may or may not be facing.

“Easy matches help when it comes to recovering mentally in tournaments like this, but at the same time you never know what is going to happen,” he added.

“On paper, Judd (Trump, world number one) looks to be on the favourable side but things can happen.

“Who expected James Cahill to beat Ronnie O’Sullivan last year? Nobody. Upsets are a part of it and that is why I never look too far ahead.

“You could be expecting to play someone in a couple of days and then they go and get knocked out.

“It looks like a tough run, but I am not fazed by it.”

The World Championship has not always been the most favourable of environments for Robertson, who has exited the competition in the first round during two of the previous five instalments.

However, the Melbourne-born player has been working on one particular aspect of his game in recent weeks to ensure that he fares better this time around.

“Where I’ve let myself down a few times in recent years is the tactical side of the game,” he said.

“It’s all mental, making your opponent work for their opportunities, and I haven’t done that enough.

“When you are playing the longer matches, it’s all well and good thinking you will quicken through the gears at some point and blow them away in a best of 25, but there are breaks.

“You can get up a head of steam and then a couple of frames later the session finishes.

“I’ve been working hard tactically. It’s a key thing in the longer format.”

The competition will also act as a trailblazer, becoming the first indoor event to pilot the safe return of fans since lockdown was eased.

A reduced crowd of 300 spectators will be at the Crucible for the entirety of the event, and Robertson has welcomed that news.

“Thankfully it has been given the green light for some fans to come back,” he said.

“It might not be many, but it will help to create some pressure and tension – a World Championship needs that.

“When I played Stephen Maguire (in the Tour Championship quarter-final last month) it was so strange with no fans.

“It was a good game, but if felt like practice and that makes it tough mentally.

“There will still be plenty of restrictions in place. We all have to be tested and it is all very tight, but having fans in the building will make it feel a little more normal.”