OUR REVIEW OF 2014 continues with a look at the remarkable break-building achievement of one player and the inspirational courage shown off table by another…
ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR – ON TABLE
When Neil Robertson first turned professional he was a talented potter with a rawness which made him eye-catching to watch but lacking consistency. He recognised he needed to work on his break-building to become a truly great player, to keep tighter control of the cue ball and not rely so much on his recovery potting, impressive though this undoubtedly was.
Last season, the fruits of this labour became apparent in stunning fashion as Robertson became the first player to compile a century of century breaks in a single season. His tally ended at 103. The previous record for a campaign had been 61.
The increased number of tournaments was obviously a help but also in many ways irrelevant. The fact was, Robertson was miles ahead of any other player when it came to compiling centuries and was also steadfastly reliable with 70, 80 and 90 breaks which were also frame-winners.
To make a century, several elements need to come together: you need to see the shots, execute them and also maintain concentration. You need to be in control of your emotions and not panic if something does go wrong. If it does, you need to dig yourself out of the hole.
Robertson often seemed serene, in the ‘zone’ often talked about in sport as he made century after century throughout the campaign.
It all came to the boil at the Crucible, as so much invariably does. Robertson arrived there on 93 centuries, his situation being compared to that of the great Australian batsman Sir Donald Bradman, who needed to make four runs in his last Test match to average 100 for his career and was out for a duck.
The strain seemed to show on Robertson as, twice against Mark Allen, he missed the final ball for what would have been his 100th ton.
But against Judd Trump there were more important things to consider, chiefly the prospect of exiting the World Championship at the quarter-final stage. Going behind to Trump pushed all thoughts of century records to the back of Robertson’s mind sufficiently so that when the moment did arrive, he was relaxed enough to take it.
His celebration was justified. The effort that had gone into this piece of history cannot be underplayed.
Only 54 players have made 100 centuries in their whole career. For Robertson to do so in a single season was remarkable. Even if it is emulated, he will always have been the first to break this ground.
ACHIEVEMENT OF THE YEAR – OFF TABLE
When Ali Carter was beaten by Mark Selby in the second round of the World Championship it was an obvious disappointment but the way events unfolded within a few weeks reminded us that snooker is only a game – a difficult, exciting and often maddeningly frustrating one, but a game all the same.
Carter had played at the top level despite suffering from Crohn’s disease for a decade. A tough, self-assured character not given to self-pity, Carter simply got on with life and made the best of things.
And he made his career a success, with three ranking titles, two world finals, a Crucible maximum and residency in the top 16 the career standouts.
In 2013, Carter had treatment for testicular cancer and then earlier this year the snooker world was stunned by the news he had been diagnosed with a form of lung cancer.
At moments such as this, rivalries fall away. There was only genuine concern for Carter, a member of the snooker family and still a young man.
While everyone else traversed the globe playing in tournaments, Carter was undergoing physically and mentally draining treatment, unsure of his future but displaying the same combative traits which had brought him success on the table.
It was his attitude which impressed everyone. Rather than wanting to be seen as a victim, Carter tackled cancer head on. He didn’t hide away but kept his Twitter followers updated with his progress and at all times demonstrated a positive outlook. He was determined to beat it. And after the considerable medical treatment, he did.
Just this last week, Carter was given the all clear by his doctors. His is an inspirational story but no Christmas fairytale. This was real life, the fight of his life, and he faced it with admirable courage and dignity.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.