ROBERT MILKINS is delighted to have qualified for his first Dafabet Masters in 2014 – but the 37-year-old from Gloucester is still not convinced he has yet done enough to be truly considered as one of snooker’s elite.
The Milkins career turnaround is one of the more compelling stories in the game, after the player dubbed ‘The Milkman’, one of the fastest on tour, plummeted to No55 in the rankings while drinking and gambling heavily, and falling in to considerable debt.
After springing a big shock by beating current world No1 Neil Robertson 10-8 at the World Championships last year Milkins claimed he had at one time been “going down the gutter” – so to be heading to Alexandra Palace ranked a lifetime-high No13 in the world is no mean feat and a triumph of will over adversity.
Milkins and almost everyone else grinned wryly when the draw for the Masters pitted him against four-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan just days after the Rocket had raced through him 6-0 in just 68 minutes at the williamhill.com UK Championship in York in December.
But as Milkins told Inside Snooker, he owes his position to consistency rather than titles or finals - he has never been beyond the last four in a major tournament – and in his own tough analysis to feel like a top player after the “wasted years” that is a record he is desperate to improve upon.
He said: “I am really looking forward to it, it has been a target all season and thinking about it was probably starting to affect some of my performances. I needed to relax.
“You can get a bit twitchy when it is something really important. As far back as the Indian Open qualifiers the Masters was on my mind.
“It is a massive thing for me as I have never been there, but it was in the minds of even established players who had been there many times.
“I don’t know if I even regard myself as a top-16 player yet, maybe it hasn’t kicked in. I have always felt like I should be there or thereabouts.
“But things happen in your life, sometimes you don’t give the game the respect it deserves and it takes a lot longer to get up the rankings.
“Just consistently beating the top players in big matches at big tournaments, that’s what makes you feel like contender and boosts your confidence.
“You get on TV for the first time you struggle, then you get used to it. If I got to a final and won it against a top player, maybe then I would think of myself as among the elite.
“I am bit unproven, and haven’t done anything special to get into the top 16.
“You have to be going in to games against top players expecting to win and trying to stamp your own authority on the match.
“I have had a massive turnaround in my life and career with massive help from some great people, I could never have seen myself getting in the 16 a few years ago.
“I was virtually off the tour and completely wasted five or six years, that is a long time in snooker especially at that age – say 26-32 – when you should be winning things and playing your best.
“I was busy trying to chuck it all away. It depends who you have around you, you need true friends and people to grab you by the scruff of the neck and luckily I had a couple.”
Milkins, who has always credited manager Paul Mount as being one of those to help pull him back from the edge of the abyss, admitted to a sense of inevitability over drawing O’Sullivan so soon after the demolition suffered at the Barbican Centre.
But he insists that there have been far more damaging defeats in the past that have left much deeper scars, often when defeat has been snatched from the jaws of victory.
Milkins added: “I was half-expecting to get Ronnie in the draw after what happened at the UK, it was just a feeling. But one good thing about playing Ronnie is that you are guaranteed a great atmosphere, and maybe lower expectations. It takes the pressure off.
“I had to take that beating on the chin and you may as well lose 6-0 as 6-5. There are matches that scar you, that loss wasn’t one of them actually. And the worst thing then is waiting for that performance that helps you get rid of it.
“That’s where people like Neil Robertson are so good at forgetting things and moving on. You wouldn’t want to take too many of those 6-0s but I have definitely lost worse games. I lost 5-4 to Mark Selby this year in Shanghai, it was the worst one ever.
“How I never won the match I will never know. The last three frames I was probably 50-1 on in the betting to win each one and somehow lost the game. But one thing is for sure, I am really looking forward to it at Ally Pally, and I will be trying my hardest.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos.