In the eyes of many, Australia's Neil Robertson arrived at the Betfred World Championship as the man to beat at the Crucible, and little has happened to change that viewpoint as he has successfully negotiated the first two rounds.
The 39-year-old Robertson won what to date is his only world title back in 2010, beating Graeme Dott in the final in Sheffield. Since then, for a serial tour winner, regular top-four player and feared contender his record in the blue-riband tournament does not quite match up.
Robertson has reached the single-table set-up and the semi-finals on only one occasion since, seven years ago. And the quarter-final stage has proved an especially thorny obstacle. The world No3 has gone out at that stage in the last two years, and in three of the last six seasons.
Winning the UK Championship in December, his third success for that major, and then March’s Tour Championship featuring an incredibly strong and elite field of the best eight players in the world on current form, hammering Ronnie O’Sullivan 10-4 in the final.
That victory actually saw Robertson move up to No3 in the world rankings and therefore switch sides in the draw at the Crucible with Mark Selby, away from the ‘Quarter of Doom’ featuring Mark Williams, John Higgins, Mark Allen and now Selby, but into world No1 Judd Trump’s half.
A high-class 13-9 win over the dangerous Jack Lisowski, with breaks of 135, 76, 137, 69, 113, 126, 87, 70 and 90, followed a more comfortable 10-3 victory over Liang Wenbo. Next up is Kyren Wilson, who is through to a sixth consecutive World Championship quarter-final after a 13-10 victory over Barry Hawkins.
Robertson said after the Lisowski win, “It was almost a ruthless performance! I thought I should have had six or seven tons in the match though I got four and my scoring was mainly good.
“Jack threw everything at me at times, but when he was playing really well I managed to win the first session 5-3 and got out 4-4 in the second, which I haven’t always done.
“I did get a bit of luck in the final session, with a couple of flukes. But I was impressed with Jack today, I had to work much harder for any chances against him.
“The way I played winning the recent Tour Championship was the best I have ever performed winning a tournament from start to finish.
“I beat Jack in the quarters, Mark Selby in the semis and then Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final, and I have kept that momentum going in the first two rounds here.
“Since I won this title I have only been to the semi-finals once, and that was seven years ago.
“I do think it is going to take something special to beat me this year, but then I have been there before. I have felt that in previous years, and then players have come up with near career-best displays.
“I have had maybe my best season and won the two biggest ranking events so there is nothing for me to prove, and I feel like I have a free shot at it.
“The quarter-final stage is one I have struggled to get past, the single table in the semis is different and it can seem a scramble to get there with the arena still divided.
“I have blitzed through a couple of rounds a few times and then maybe been just too desperate to get through to that one-table set-up in the semis.
“You saw that maybe against John Higgins here, and also Mark Selby last year.
“And other players are doing what they always do, saying I am the favourite…they do it all the time, and I am not falling for it this time!
“There is some mind games there, Ronnie O’Sullivan says before every match he plays that his opponent is the favourite, and he clearly doesn’t think that or he wouldn’t win like he does.
“So I need to put all that to one side, acknowledge I am playing well but not think too far ahead.”
Robertson’s wife Mille made him cry by managing to negotiate his British-passport holding father passage over to the UK from Melbourne having not seen him for almost two years. And he should come up from Cambridge if his son reaches the semi-finals.
Robertson added, “My dad is over from Australia, at the moment he is at home in Cambridge helping Mille look after his grandchildren and enjoying spending time with the family.
“Of course he is following it on the TV, and actually prefers watching sport that way. If we was up here he couldn’t be in the players’ lounge anyway, listening to all the stories from the legends.
“There is no mixing, we can’t rent an apartment so he would only be picking balls out for me in practice and being in the hotel room most of the time.
“So he can come whenever he wants, but I think if I get to the semi-finals then he may come up then. That’s a good extra incentive for me.
“And it’s dangerous to say things at this stage like ‘I’d love to win it for him’. Back in 2014 there was a lot of emotion about him coming over, and I think that caught up with me against Mark Selby in the semi-finals.
“So brilliant as it is to have him over I need to be ruthless and not worry about anything else apart from my matches, as terrible as that sounds!”