A roaming centurion. There was a small but poignant moment during Neil Robertson’s overwhelming 6-2 victory against Mark Selby – a largely seated, slightly disbelieving three-times world champion – in a UK Championship quarter-final on Friday that summed up the mindset of a man in the moment.
Holding a 4-2 lead and rampaging onwards on a gorgeous break of 88, Robertson rolled in a tricky green with a rest while holding for the brown to leave himself seemingly set for a second century of the match having knocked in 122 with minimal fuss in the second frame for a 2-0 advantage that would ultimately prove impregnable.
A relatively straightforward brown by his own staggering standards – he boasted a 90 percent long pot success during a resounding triumph for a technique made to torment opponents – wriggled in the jaws prompting a palpable groan from the 2010 world champion that was as telling as his cue ball control with the miss halting him in his tracks, nine points short of his second century of the day.
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"I get really annoyed if I make 90 and don't make 100," commented Robertson after another epic 6-5 win over Selby in the Champion of Champions semi-final last month as both men revelled in three centuries each on that particular gladiatorial occasion.
Robertson prefers his dishes these days to be in three figures. Especially when he seems to be involved in a century arms race with the undisputed world number one Judd Trump to set a new record in the sport. Ton up and stun up is very much the order of the day.
Having come up short in the seventh frame, Robertson promptly addressed his minor error in the eighth by rapidly piecing together a clearance of 130 prompted by a trademark elegant long red in securing his place in the last four with Selby relegated to a watching brief. From a player nicknamed the 'Thunder from Down Under', it has been a delightful deluge.
Robertson's 6-2 semi-final win over an overwhelmed world number 25 Zhou Yuelong produced three more centuries of 125, 118 and 104. He is in the form of his life, much more intimidating than his levels of a decade ago when he became world champion. Minus a crowd, Milton Keynes is producing more sure-fire winners for the Melbourne man than Flemington Racecourse.
“From start to finish that was very good, it was one of my best performances of the season, probably the best," said the 2013 and 2015 UK champion after his dismantling of Selby.
Robertson has moved onto 38 centuries for the season – and 753 for his elevated career – from seven tournaments in a scorching scoring streak. With the final to come and 10 more frames required to land the UK title, there is every chance the 40-century summit will be scaled before snooker's Super Sunday is out.
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Not only by Robertson. Trump began his latest joust with Kyren Wilson in their quarter-final two centuries behind Robertson, but promptly restored parity at 35 apiece by contributing 106 and 102 in two of the first three frames of a taut 6-4 win over August's world finalist.
A 6-2 win over Joe Perry's conqueror Lu Ning in the second semi-final on Saturday night brought another two centuries of 113 and 107 as he moved to 37 for the season and 755 for his glistening career. It is premium potting that has rarely been witnessed since the start of the televised era.
“My game is the best it has ever been,” said Robertson, who is chasing a first title of the season and 19th career triumph. “Last season I reached three finals in a row and I have carried that on."
Trump makes century in semi-final
The century joust is a fitting sub-plot as both men collide in the best-of-19 frame final with Trump having already usurped Robertson 9-8 in the English Open final in October, a duel that witnessed four centuries, three from the world number three.
Trump leads Robertson 19-15 in their career head-to-heads, but such stats indicate little when analysing the potential outcome of the final. Robertson wallowed in five centuries and three breaks over 50 in a 10-9 win over his great rival in the 2019 Champion of Champions final that witnessed three Trump tons and four 50 plus knocks.
Their joust is a bit like an Ashes battle of the baize for the ages with Warney’s unplayable spin being matched by Beefy Botham’s all-round antics. Where it all ends, nobody quite knows.
One of the slightly odd finales to last season beyond Ronnie O’Sullivan ending his six-year wait to lift a sixth world title saw Trump fail to set a new all-time century record for a season.
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Having carried off the Gibraltar Open before lockdown in March, he stood on 97 centuries and looked certain to overtake Robertson’s century of centuries record of 103 set back in the 2013/14 campaign, but agonisingly came up one short.
A relatively modest five centuries from the Championship League, Tour Championship and World Championship saw him forced to declare on 102 for the season as his elongated reign as world champion ended on an oddly sedate note after lifting a record six ranking events.
“In the past I have put too much pressure on myself and that’s when you get nervous. This season I have just treated it as a game while trying my best, and I get more enjoyment from that," said 2011 UK winner Trump.
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Neither men are likely to give ground this time. With Robertson having nine more tournaments after the UK – he lost 5-4 to Ben Woollaston in the first round of German Masters qualifying – and Trump potentially confronting another 10, the dedicated duo only need an average of seven tons an event to go beyond Robertson’s gold standard.
It is a window of opportunity. The Scottish Open and World Grand Prix will both be played before Christmas, providing a prospective advent calendar of centuries.
At this rate, they could both beat the old record, but finish second.
"Every time I play Neil it is special. The Champion of Champions and English Open finals are two of the best ever," said Trump. "The table is playing beautifully and I’m sure there will be a lot of high scoring. Neil’s all round game looks very good so I’ll have to be at my best. The way we are both playing spurs the other players on so they don’t fall behind.”
Having no fans at venues has perhaps aided the century machinations, but who needs a crowd when you can feed off each other. The Ashes of the angles between two majestic all-rounders at the very top of their game is a snooker test match that appears to know no boundaries.