Neil Robertson must defy history to retain his UK crown

Neil Robertson celebrates with the UK Championship trophy.
Neil Robertson celebrates with the UK Championship trophy.
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NEIL ROBERTSON admits history is against him as he sets out to defend his Betway UK Championship title in York.

For the Australian - who beat China’s Liang Wenbo 10-5 at the York Barbican 12 months ago - is aiming to become the first player since Stephen Hendry 20 years ago, to win back-to-back UK crowns.

Neil Robertson.

Neil Robertson.

The likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui, John Higgins, Judd Trump and Mark Selby have all won the UK title - since Hendry’s triple success in 1994, 1995 and 1996 - but failed to retain the trophy.

Even Robertson failed, for after beating Selby 10-7 in 2013, he crashed out 12 months later to Graeme Dott, before triumphing in North Yorkshire last year.

“I would love to defend my title,” said Robertson. “I’ve won the UK Championship two out of the last three years which is a fantastic achievement.

“When I won the Masters, I got to the final the following year, but couldn’t defend my title on that occasion.

“To win tournaments back to back is a very difficult thing. It’s not something that many people have achieved.

“The standard of player these days makes it very difficult, but I will give it my best shot.”

Only Steve Davis (six), Hendry (five), O’Sullivan (five) and Higgins (three) have won the UK title more than twice since the tournament’s inception in 1977.

Looking to join that elite club, Robertson is in a field of 128 players and opens up in York against Leeds veteran Peter Lines, their first-round match on Thursday November 24.

But whatever obstacles stand in his way, the 2010 World Champion knows he will not face a tougher route to the final than last year.

The 34-year-old had to beat Stephen Maguire, Higgins and world No 1 Selby just to reach the final, where he then created history by scoring a maximum 147 break.

The left-hander was the first player to achieve such a feat in a final at snooker’s top three events: the World Championship, Masters and UK Championship.

“Overall, from start to finish, it was the most satisfied I’ve been with how I’ve played in a tournament,” reflected Robertson.

“I beat Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the last 32 and he missed the final black off the spot for a 147. I then made a 145 break in the following frame.

“In the last 16, I put in one of my best ever performances against Stephen Maguire and I had a great match with John Higgins in the quarter-finals. To then beat the world No 1 and current World Champion Mark Selby 6-0 in the semis was amazing.

“It was probably the hardest path anyone has had to reach the final. My opponent in the final Liang Wenbo is an unpredictable player to go up against.

“In recent times he has gone on to show how good he is by winning the English Open. In the first session we both played fantastically well.

“We made a few centuries and there was the 147 as well. The second session was a little bit difficult.

“I made a crucial clearance to go 6-4 up and controlled the game from there. He began to show his emotions.

“I had no idea that nobody had made a 147 in a final of the UK Championship, Masters or World Championship. I only found out after I had actually done it. It’s a great honour to be the first and for me to achieve it in such a wonderful venue makes for memories which are going to live with me forever.”

Unlike in the Eighties and Nineties, when Davis and Hendry seemed to win everything, the extended snooker calendar means it is impossible for one player to dominate.

Cambridge-based Robertson accepts that, and knows you do need to enjoy some good fortune along the way.

“Even last year after I won the UK Championships and the Champion of Champions I was then talking about winning the Masters and Worlds,” he said.

“Players have certain spells where they can dominate for a couple of months.

“However, It’s very difficult to do it over a whole season. You need those flicks of luck. I’m just trying to be as good as I can be and I guess the tournaments will reflect how I have performed over the years.”

O’Sullivan faces Thailand’s Boonyarit Keattikun – last year’s world under-21 champion – at York. Trump takes on Thai veteran James Wattana, while world champion Selby is up against Andy Hicks.

The Betway UK Championship runs from November 22 to December 4 at the York Barbican. Tickets start at £7, for details call 0844 854 2757 or visit www.worldsnooker.com/tickets