Neil Robertson became the first Australian in 16 years to reach a ranking tournament final by beating Bearsden’s Alan McManus 6-2 in the semi-finals of the Royal London Watches Grand Prix in Aberdeen today.
Robertson, the world no.13, clinched victory by doubling the black the full length of the table at the end of the eighth frame and faces Stoke’s Jamie Cope, a 6-3 winner over Mark King, in Sunday’s best of 17 frames final.
“It means a lot to reach the final but it would mean a lot more to win the tournament. That’s why I’m here,” said the 24 year-old Melbourne left-hander.
McManus won the first two frames but the turning point came in the fourth when Robertson got the two snookers he needed on the blue before clearing up to force a re-spotted black, which he potted to level at 2-2.
A break of 79 gave Robertson the fifth, McManus failed to pot a ball in the next and he went in-off the yellow in the seventh, from which Robertson cleared to the pink to lead 5-2 before his grandstand finish a frame later.
“That’s probably the first frame I’ve ever won when I’ve needed two snookers on the blue. It was a massive steal,” said Robertson of his Houdini act in the fourth.
Robertson only took to the green baize game because it was so hot on one Melbourne day that he ventured into an air conditioned snooker club to cool down.
He turned professional in 2000 but found it hard being so far from home at such a young age. It was difficult to adjust to the realities of the pro game, where talented newcomers, hardened veterans and useful journeymen made life in the qualifiers a frustrating affair.
Settling in Cambridge with some other Australian players eventually allayed the homesickness and Robertson’s game, based around his fearless long potting, began to reap dividends.
Not unusually for an Australian sports star, Robertson does not lack for confidence but does not exude the arrogant streak that turned so many in the game off his compatriot Quinten Hann, who was recently banned for eight years after being found guilty of the intention to fix a match in the 2005 China Open.
Neither does Robertson’s attacking, exciting approach bear any relation to the dour, methodical style of Eddie Charlton, Australia ’s most successful player. Charlton, who died in November 2004, was once as high as third in the rankings and three times the World Championship runner-up but never won a ranking title.
The last Australian to appear in a ranking tournament final was Warren King, beaten 10-6 by Steve James in the 1990 Mercantile Classic. Snooker down under does not have a high profile but Robertson is hoping to change this.
“If I win the tournament I’ve no doubt snooker will start getting in the papers back home,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of support but need to win a title to get the press coverage.”
McManus, 35, was appearing in his 26th ranking event semi-final but is still searching for a third title. “I’m a little bit disappointed but things just didn’t go my way and you have to accept that,” he said.
Cope, 21, compiled a 147 maximum break earlier in the tournament and grew in confidence as the week progressed to reach the first major final of his short career. He trailed King 2-1 but produced an inspired spell of scoring as breaks of 96, 58, 74 and 60 carried him into a 5-2 lead before he clinched victory two frames later.
It was the 15th match Cope had played in the Grand Prix following the controversial round robin format employed in the Prestatyn qualifiers and early stages in Aberdeen.
“I felt really settled in the balls in every frame. I just needed a chance to score and I did,” he said.