Neil Robertson’s completion of a century of century breaks in a single season is a landmark achievement by a player with admirable qualities which extend far beyond potting balls.
To make the 100th century at the Crucible will make it extra special for a player who has had it harder than many in his long road to the top. Like any first in any sport it will be placed in the history books for all time.
Stephen Hendry was the first player to make more than 50 centuries in a season and Ronnie O’Sullivan the second. Robertson did so a few years ago, as did Mark Selby. Judd Trump set a new record last season with 61.
In all of snooker history, 52 players have compiled 100 centuries in their professional playing careers. For Robertson to do so in a single season is an astonishing feat.
It has been made possible by the increase in tournaments and thus matches, although of course it helps that Robertson has won so many matches. It also helps that he has entered so many tournaments, supporting the sport and valuing his own profession. The amount of snooker on the calendar has provided the opportunity but everyone else has had the same number of events in which to play. Second on the list of centurions this season is Ding Junhui with 62.
How did it happen? When Robertson first came to the UK he was talented but raw. His cue ball control was not yet fully developed. Why should it be? In Australia there simply wasn’t the standard of opposition required to bring his game up to the level it needed to be to challenge at the top level.
After dropping off the tour – relegated on his 18th birthday – Robertson felt he had no future in snooker. The problem was he didn’t know anything else. He’d grown up playing the game in a Melbourne club run by his father, Ian, and didn’t have the qualifications needed to go into another stimulating career.
One day he queued up at a job centre. Thankfully it was a long queue because as he stood there, he realised snooker was what he loved and snooker was, somehow or another, going to be his future. he went back into the amateur ranks, won the world under 21 titles and was accepted back on to the tour. He made the tough decision to separate himself from his family by moving to Cambridge and gave it a go.
He was still raw but improving. Crucially, in a sport that doesn’t exactly lack moaners, he was positive. He believed in himself. He climbed the rankings and began to get through to the latter stages of tournaments. Then he won one, the 2006 Grand Prix, and started to win more.
He was making centuries but had a style that Stephen Hendry called amateurish. One night in the bar at the UK Championship Hendry gave him some advice. Robertson, far from being offended, took it on board. He was knocked out of the first round of last season’s World Championship and didn’t want to watch a minute of the rest of it, but tuned in when Ronnie O’Sullivan was playing. He noticed how clinical O’Sullivan was when in the balls, how ruthlessly he killed frames off.
Hendry and O’Sullivan: the two best break-builders in the history of the game. If you can’t take inspiration from them then you won’t find it anywhere.
Robertson found it and has now raised the bar to a level quite remarkable. As he crept towards the 90s there were suggestions he may start to feel the pressure. On this site I compared it to Sir Donald Bradman narrowly failing to average 100 for his career.
Robertson was on 92 centuries going to the China Open but added just one to his tally. the whole thing was in the balance heading to the Crucible but he made four against Robbie Williams and two on Sunday against Mark Allen.
That he has now accomplished this milestone as a tribute to his professionalism, his powers of concentration and his determination. It’s the relentlessness I admire. The stubborn will to keep on doing it, week in, week out, match in, match out. Robertson manages to be one of snooker’s tough guys but also one of its good guys.
He should be very proud of this stellar achievement.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.