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The Big Neil Robertson Interview – Part Two

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Following on from part one earlier in the week, click below for the second part of my recent chat with world number one Neil Robertson, as we discuss the development of his game, look back on his 2010 world title triumph and also some of the things that Neil likes to do off the table.

All comments and feedback on both this and the first part of the interview are welcome at the bottom of the article…

PSB: One comment last season that I found interesting was something that journalist Hector Nunns said, that you are a player that when you identify a weakness in our game, you work hard and improve on it. For example there was the famous comment from Stephen Hendry about your break-building and then obviously you have broken the centuries record. Is that something that you would agree with?

NR: Yeah, I think that’s important for any sportsman. The rest of the pack that are chasing you, wanting your titles, they are looking at your game thinking about how they can exploit you, so it’s important that you turn your weaknesses into strengths.

I can’t remember who the player was but they said to me after a match ‘that was strange, I thought that was a bad area of your game’ and it was quite funny because it was something that I had worked on in practice, so obviously they had the idea that they would try to exploit that, but when I played them I was actually well-equipped in that department.

I think that the tactical side of my game has really improved. I have to deal with a lot of different scenarios to a lot of other players, because obviously players don’t want to leave me many long balls. I’ve found that over the past five or six years, people don’t leave me with the comfortable shots to nothing, the long straight reds where you are holding for the black because I love those kind of shots.

There are always things that you have got to look into, you have got to think of how you can create the best chances for yourself.

PSB: How would you describe your playing style and philosophy? You had the reputation of being an attacking long potter and then it seemed to go the other way when you went quite defensive. Or would you just say that you are quite adaptable to the situation that you are in?

NR: Yeah it has changed and sometimes my shot time goes up quite a bit, I’m certainly not doing it intentionally that’s for sure. Sometimes I can try and look for the best option a bit too much rather than playing on instinct, so it’s important that I do play my natural game which of course is to try and score heavily and with the long potting.

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But also sometimes there aren’t any long balls available or sometimes the frames are going scrappy, so that is when I will definitely take my time to see the best option, the best safety option. When you are playing guys like John Higgins and Mark Selby, if you are just playing shots without really thinking of the consequences, playing a safety shot without really any sort of purpose, in two shots time you could be in all sorts of trouble, so I will take my time in trying to plan a safety shot

But when I am in amongst the balls I will try to get on with it and try to score at a good pace because that’s also something that I worked on last season and I think it had a good effect. I haven’t quite perfected it yet but when I do score at a quick rate, I do notice myself feeling much better about my game.

I’ll never play as quick as someone like Mark Allen or maybe Judd, but you don’t have to. I think if I knock a total clearance in around the 10 minute mark then that is absolutely fine.

PSB: On Stephen Hendry, from the outside you seem to have a good relationship with him and during the World Championship he said that you reminded him of himself, trying to clear the table at every opportunity etc, is that a conscious decision or has that just happened?

NR: I think it has just happened with the development of my game. A lot of people think ‘what’s the reason, how come you have done this all of a sudden, what are you doing’ but people sometimes forget that I never really practised on a professional table with these really fast cloths until I was 21. Most players on tour now have had probably ten years of that experience, where I am experiencing that tenth year now.

So It has taken me a long time, when I was brought up in Australia it was a completely different way of playing, for seven or eight years I was playing on completely different tables and it takes a long time to get out of that mould. I think it’s just the natural progression of my game.

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I think that I always try to improve on my weaknesses, break-building has been a little bit inconsistent for me, sometimes I think I‘m scoring really well and then sometimes I don’t, but last year I felt as though I scored very heavily. And also a lot of the centuries that I made, I seemed to make a lot of big breaks, what I mean by that is a lot of centuries from the opening red, from the second red in the frame, a lot of players will make a century and clear the whole table and make 105 or something like that where there have already been four or five reds potted in the frame.

I think making the century from the first or second red puts your opponent under a lot of pressure knowing that as soon as they make a mistake I will be scoring pretty heavily. You can’t win tournaments these days unless you are scoring heavily.

PSB: Would you say that you are playing better than you ever have at the moment?

NR: Yeah absolutely, I’m a better player than what I ever have been, no doubt whatsoever. Probably the next thing to make a big step in my game is to play really well in the tough conditions that China can present, but my record in China is really good so obviously I am doing a lot of right things there.

What I noticed about Ronnie O’Sullivan is that he always seems to play well no matter what the playing conditions are like. He always finds a way of playing well and I think I’ve seen something in the way he does things to do that so I’m going to try and do that.

From Wuxi I made my frustrations known after my match with Shaun Murphy. Shaun and I were both talking on the way back from the car and it’s very frustrating when you play that badly and over 90% of the shots that you miss or bad positional shots were from the table.

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So yeah, maybe just focusing on my own game, I’ve said what I needed to say after that match in Wuxi. World Snooker are definitely aware of that now and hopefully they are going to try and solve the problem, so I am going to just let them deal with it now. You won’t really hear me talking about playing conditions any more, because it doesn’t look good.

I’ve also made a conscious act of trying to express my disappointment in playing conditions after I’ve won a match as opposed to losing one. I think after I lost to Tian Pengfei at the German Masters and I lost the first two frames directly from a kick (which is pretty frustrating when that happens as a sportsman, when you have done nothing wrong), a lot of sour grapes comments came out over that.

So I’ve made a mental note of that and never to mention playing conditions after I lose a match. I’ve said my bit now and there is no need to go into it now. Especially after Wuxi it was after I won the match on the black and I won the tournament so nobody can really say too much about it.

PSB: Without going into it too much, is it obvious to you what the problems are in terms of the conditions?

NR: There are so many other things that can affect it. I mean in Wuxi the playing conditions played really well when it was dry outside, but when I and Shaun played it was very wet and very humid and there is nothing that World Snooker can do about that. It is so hard to try and schedule tournaments at different times of the year, especially when there are five tournaments in China so you are going to be playing in some when the weather conditions aren’t ideal outside.

The only thing I think we could do is play on a different cloth. It doesn’t have to be a different cloth manufacturer, just a different cloth. I’ve played in an invitational tournament in Hong Kong a couple of times and we played on a Hainsworth cloth. It was too fast, but it was certainly a lot better than what we played on in Wuxi before we went down to that one table situation.

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Who knows, maybe that’s the next step where the game can make a big leap in producing higher standard matches because you look at the matches in the UK, the Masters, World Championship, generally speaking the table always plays really, really well, so the problem is definitely in Asia with the different climate.

PSB: Looking back earlier in your career, did you always still believe that you were going to make it to the very top?

NR: When I won the Grand Prix when I beat Ding in the final, I played a really good match with John Higgins in the semi-final when I won on the black. I played so, so well in that match, it was one of the greatest matches I have ever been involved in, even still now…

PSB: I remember that black over the green pocket that he couldn’t cut in…

NR: Yeah it was absolutely incredible, that match was the first time I had played an absolute legend like John Higgins in a huge match, like a semi-final or a final and I thought if I can play that well against John Higgins then I can certainly handle the demands of doing well at the World Championship.Robertson19

Also I think that the previous World Championship where I lost to Shaun Murphy in the semis, that was my first experience of the one-table situation and I knew from that experience, winning the Grand Prix, we only had six ranking tournaments that season so I knew that I was going into the World Championship as a tournament winner and that I could do really well.

I started off winning against Fergal O’Brien, obviously the second round I had to deal with Martin Gould playing the craziest snooker ever seen at the Crucible for the first two sessions. I did so well just to be 11-5 down because the match could have been over by then, I think I was 6-0 down in the match so to come through 13-12, I knew then that I was going to be able to handle any sort of pressure situation that I was going to face for the remainder of the tournament.

I think my semi-final against Ali Carter was in terms of a long distance match, definitely the best that I had ever played in a match. The last session I was a little bit wobbly trying to get to the final as I had such a big lead, but when I got to the final I felt really good.

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My mum came over which was a surprise. It was a real positive on one side but a very big negative in a way. It put a lot of pressure on me and a lot of emotion to deal with. It’s hard enough to sort of settle down and get ready for the final, but to have her coming over it was obviously fantastic, but on the other side it was very hard to forget about everything and not be emotional when I walked out – which I was, I got really emotional. I was nearly in tears that she was there.

So the first session was a bit of a struggle but I recovered well and I was probably disappointed that I never really got going in the last sort of session and a half. I played really well to lead something like 8-5 from 5-3 down but I never could really shake him off. It was very scrappy, it was a very tough final, I didn’t play anywhere near as well as I did against Ali Carter, the match was different.

Graeme is a very tough player, he makes it difficult to score, his safety is so good so it was certainly a different way of winning the world title to what I had thought I would have done. I had to sort of graft and grind it out against him. We were up against the scheduling as well, the BBC where we didn’t have much of a break at all going into the last session and I think they have changed the way that they schedule the final now, so it was a really satisfying way to win the World Championship. My dad said that he was proud of the way that I won it because I beat Graeme in such a difficult match and outlasted him in the safety department and did really well.

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PSB: Off-table, of the players I can relate to you quite well with the video games, the football, even Game of Thrones at the moment, which from Twitter I know you have currently got into.

NR: I absolutely love that show, I can’t believe that I never watched it before!

PSB: And you have started reading the books by George R.R. Martin as well…

NR: Yeah I’ve started reading the first one, God it’s nearly 800 pages the first one and I read from when I came back from Melbourne to Dubai to Birmingham or something. I read about half of it which I was quite happy with, to read so much of it. The TV series has actually followed it really well. They have tried to put as much of the book into the TV series as they can so it’s really good but it also adds a lot more insight as well, into the characters and you sort of learn about it again.

Sometimes you can watch a series and some things can really go past you without you really noticing, but in the book obviously nothing goes unnoticed. So I am really enjoying that and I am definitely going to catch up in terms of the books, but I’m not going to read any further than where the TV series is.

PSB: What else are you into at the moment TV-wise?

NR: I used to love Dexter, I haven’t actually watched the last season of that so far. True Detective is one that I have just bought today actually which is meant to be really good so I will give that a whirl. When Game of Thrones finished I didn’t know what to do (laughs). The way it ended this year, then I learned how big the show is, how many books are out, the books will cover the next 2-3 seasons before he has to finish more books I suppose but yeah just really enjoying it at the moment, I love it.

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PSB: The other one is Breaking Bad which I haven’t seen yet, but am just about to start on…

NR: Yeah I watched all of that, I loved that, it’s a little bit slow in parts so you need a bit of discipline not to give up on it at certain points. I think that Joe Perry gave up on it, he watched maybe 3-4 episodes and said that it was too slow. But I really enjoyed it because it’s something so completely different to any other TV show.

PSB: And obviously computer games, you are well into those, have you always been into that?

NR: Yeah I love video games. I’m always watching professional gamers play on a website called twitch.tv. In some ways they are like my TV shows that I watch, I’ll be in the lounge room and Alexander will be watching cartoons or playing with Lego or something and in the background on the iPad I’ll have somebody just playing games or something to watch in the background.

Watching people play videogames at a competitive level is really enjoyable, they are becoming really popular now and the prize money is scary, I tweeted last week comparing one tournament to the Open golf and it was $10,000,000 for a video game, it’s absolute madness.

I really enjoy it, the fact that I can play to a competitive level is also enjoyable because I’ve got a very competitive streak in me so it is nice to take your frustrations or whatever else it is on someone at the other side of the world on a videogame, it’s quite fun. It’s a nice way to fill time, in hotels in China, it’s a different way of relaxing and winding down, as opposed to watching a TV show or watching a movie.

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PSB: What are you playing at the moment?

NR: Playing FIFA 14 on the PS4. David Morris is really good at that game actually, he’s really good, he’s a lot better than me. Games I play on the PC, I used to play World of Warcraft a lot, not so much these days, it’s very time consuming so I just play a game called Diablo which is a bit more pick it up, put it down. The other PlayStation games I haven’t really got into yet, I’m hooked on FIFA at the moment.

PSB: I’m currently back on Football Manager after a few years away…

NR: I’ve never played that, I’ve heard it’s like mega addictive. Brendan Moore plays it all the time, when we are at Crondon Park in the Championship League, in between refereeing he is always on it on his laptop, he is always playing it all the time (laughs).

PSB: On the subject of football, obviously you are a big Chelsea supporter, how did that come about?

NR: When I first got onto the tour I moved to Leicester for a few months, I know that Mark Selby says that we lived together for like a year or 18 months but I was only there for about 3-4 months and obviously I used to watch Match of the Day.

There wasn’t a great deal to watch, the house that I was in didn’t have Sky or anything like that so there were just four or five channels to watch and it was the first time that I really sat down and watched football and I didn’t really know how big Manchester United were. I knew that they were a big team but the only person that I knew was David Beckham and that was it. I didn’t know who Ryan Giggs was or Paul Scholes or anything like that.

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But I really enjoyed watching [Jimmy Floyd] Hasselbaink and [Eidur] Gudjohnsen scoring lots of goals at that moment, Hasselbaink in particular scored a couple of screamers and I just liked them. I didn’t have any particular allegiance to any team really, it didn’t bother me who I supported, I just wanted to watch a team that was enjoyable to watch and then [Gianfranco] Zola scored a goal in the FA Cup against Norwich and then that was the Chelsea team.

So I thought I would follow them and then I went back to Australia for 18 months and kept in touch with their progress. Then when I got my spot back on the tour again, people are saying you have got to pick a team, who are you going to support and at the time I thought I don’t really support anyone, but I liked watching Chelsea on MOTD and Gudjohnsen and Hasselbaink were still at the club.

So yeah that’s when I thought I would just support them. And they were doing well, obviously you want to support a team that is doing well. I am not going to follow a team when they are on the brink of relegation or anything like that, I think they finished third in the league and then a year later [Roman] Abramovich took over the club and invested all the millions and then Jose Mourinho came along and it was pretty amazing timing.

PSB: Obviously you are quite invested in that now, I remember in the Crucible media room a couple of years ago hearing you screaming down the corridor when they got through in the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona!

NR: Oh yeah that’s right! I couldn’t bear to watch actually, it got down to something like the 80th minute or something like that and I just sat in one of the players rooms and in the toilets.

I was just standing up in one of the toilets and I just had my fingers in my ears because I didn’t want to hear anything, any screams or anything and then I heard someone walking past saying ‘oh they’ve just scored!’ and my heart just sank because I thought it was Barcelona, but then the person on the phone went ‘no, Torres scores, Chelsea scored’ and I burst out and that’s when I started screaming and everything.

PSB: Did you enjoy the World Cup?

NR: Yeah I really enjoyed it when I was still in the UK because the times were perfect to watch, but then in China the matches were on at 12am, 4am and then in Australia it was nearly impossible to watch, apart from the final.

I didn’t actually watch any matches live in Australia apart from the final because they were on at 6am and obviously I was playing every day, but I watched the final and was quite happy that André Schürrle won the World Cup I guess as a Chelsea fan, but I guess everyone would have loved to see Lionel Messi win, apart from Cristiano Ronaldo fans I suppose!

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PSB: Yeah I remember you tweeted the photo of you and Schürrle didn’t you from when you visited Chelsea last year?

NR: Yes! (laughs), yeah.

PSB: How do you enjoy Twitter, all the banter on there with people like Joe Perry, Matt Selt and so on?

NR: Yeah I think it’s really good. I think it’s a really healthy place for the players, obviously at the start you had a lot of bickering and some very brave people behind a keyboard or a phone who would tweet whatever they wanted to but that seems to be under control now and I think a lot of it is really good banter.

I think what Ali Carter is doing, obviously going through his cancer treatment, I think that’s really brave of him to give updates and to let people know how he is feeling and stuff like that. I think that is really good of him and a lot of people would just shy away from it and not have anything to do with anyone.

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I think that the way he is doing it with his chin up and everything is a real inspiration to a lot of people. Obviously the whole tour is right behind him and everyone wishes him well and hopefully he can beat it and make a speedy recovery.

PSB: Absolutely, finally also a word on Vinnie Calabrese who I think is still living with you, how have you found that?

NR: Yeah really good, obviously it is a massive help having another Australian with me, he’s a great friend of mine as well, I’ve known his family and his brother for like 20 years.

It’s fantastic having him around, he’s improved an awful lot as a player, his results haven’t been obviously what he would like, he has had some really good results but he’s lost to a few players that he should be beating as well so you know it’s just trying to get his consistency before he can establish himself on the tour.

 

Thanks to Neil for his time and best of luck to him for the rest of the season. He will next be in action against Ross Muir at the ET1 event in Latvia on 8 August 2014.