What next for Neil Robertson?

By winning the World Championship back in May, Australia’s Neil Robertson became the 18th different winner of snooker’s biggest tournament of the modern era. The question for 2010/11 therefore is where does he go from here? Below I take a look at how some former first-time world champions fared in the seasons immediately following their Crucible triumph…

The last man to lift the World Championship trophy for the first time was the man who Neil beat to win the 2010 crown, Graeme Dott. Few expected the gritty Scotsman to lift the title beforehand and perhaps therefore the levels of expectation upon him for 2006/7 were not overly great. To his credit however, Graeme was for me to produce some of the finest snooker of his career during that season, adding a second ranking event title to his CV at the China Open as well as reaching the semi-finals of the UK Championship only to lose out to countryman Stephen Hendry. Although he was to suffer a disappointing end to the season as his world title defence ended on the opening day against Ian McCulloch, overall it was to be a good follow up campaign before personal problems were to intervene.

One year earlier it was the turn of Shaun Murphy to lift the trophy and although his season as world champion was not to be quite as impressive as Graeme’s, a strong run to the final of the Welsh Open followed by a commendable defence of his world crown before coming unstuck against Peter Ebdon at the quarter-final stage was enough to see him move up into the top five of the rankings for the first time.

Ebdon’s 2002/3 season on the other hand was not to be a strong one, a semi-final appearance at the UK Championship proving to be the highlight of his campaign. Peter said at the time that mentally he had put such a strong emphasis on defending his world crown at the Crucible come May that he felt that this had detracted from the rest of his season and it will be interesting to see whether Neil falls into this trap. I suspect not though.

What of the big four? Interestingly, Ronnie O’Sullivan’s post-World Championship season back in 2001/2 was to see him win just two titles, four fewer than during 2000/1. It was to be a similar story for Welshman Mark Williams who having won the world title back in 2000, won only one tournament during the following season and earned 10,000 ranking points fewer.

Scottish duo John Higgins and in particular Stephen Hendry meanwhile were able to build on their successes and continue to win tournaments on a regular basis. Hendry for example was able to add a further five titles to his name by the time the 1991 World Championship came around.

So as you can see, of those who have won the world title in recent years, the majority have in the short-term at least, managed to maintain a high standard of form and build on that success with a further major title, be it the UK Championship or the Masters, both tournaments that Robertson will have an eye on having not won them previously.

I would not expect him to suddenly dominate the sport, there are simply too many strong players around at the moment for him to do that in my view, but it would be a surprise to me if he were not to add to his ever expanding trophy cabinet at some point during the coming season…