Had Joe Perry reached a ranking final at any other time since Neil Robertson set up his base in Cambridge in 2002 the Australian would have been his biggest supporter. However, now that Perry has made it through to the Wuxi Classic final the snag is that he will be playing Robertson.
And Perry has been an important figure in Robertson’s career, as an older, wiser professional who has given the talented Melbourne left-hander high quality practise opposition, plus plenty of ribbing about his football proclivities.
Anyone who watched both semi-finals on Saturday would make Robertson favourite and indeed he would be anyway on career records as he chases down his tenth world ranking title.
But there are a number of factors which could make this closer and point to potential success for Perry.
The first is the conditions, which are at times bordering on the surreal. World Snooker can do many things but changing the weather is not one of them. Robertson pointed out they could use a different cloth but that’s a longer term issue and not one which will be resolved on Sunday.
It has made positional play at times very difficult and Robertson’s trademark heavy scoring may be affected as a result.
Another factor in the final is the friendship between the two. Robertson genuinely does not care what his fellow professionals think of him. He has been subject to little bits of jealousy here and there but probably welcomes it: only winners are on the receiving end of this emotion.
But the bullish, big match player knows what it would mean to Perry to land a major title after 22 years on the circuit and it isn’t easy to completely shut out who you are playing. Friends typically don’t like playing each other for this reason.
Finally, Perry is the underdog and so it could be said the pressure is on Robertson to deliver. In the semi-final against Martin Gould, Perry started favourite.
Make no mistake, though: if the final goes close, the pressure will be on them both, and particularly on Perry who last contested a full ranking final at the European Open in December 2001.
It’s a big day for him and well earned. He’s had a consistent year and there are many who would like to see him win. He’s been a good pro for two decades, has kept out of controversy, won and lost graciously and is perceptive about off tables issues.
But it would just have to be Neil Robertson, a player he has helped and supported, who stands in his way of glory.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.