An emotional Neil Robertson has won the opening ranking event of the new campaign with a thrilling 10-9 victory over close friend Joe Perry.
Following a grueling ding-dong battle between the two practice partners, defending champion Robertson finally overcame the gutsy challenge from his willing opponent to prevail with a typically accurate break in the final frame.
There were to be no elaborate celebrations akin to his ton of tons feat at the Crucible in May, though, as he embraced Perry at the game’s conclusion before appearing to be nearing tears as he sat down in his chair.
Shaking his ahead and almost seeming angry at himself for actually winning, Robertson’s emotions were clearly not for any great amount of joy in that particular moment as it dawned on him how he had just denied Perry’s best chance of a 22-year career to capture a maiden ranking title.
That Robertson was able to produce the 78 break in the 19th frame under those circumstances is testament to his character as a true professional.
The 32 year-old’s ability to then separate that and the evidently close friendship he shares with Englishman Perry similarly reflects his level of sportsmanship.
The encounter had all the twists and turns that merited a ranking event final that went the distance.
After a scrappy opening exchange Perry established a narrow one-frame cushion going into the evening session.
The ‘Gentleman’ was able to maintain this as he neared closer to victory at 6-5 only for Robertson to seemingly grab a stranglehold of the match with three frames on the bounce to lead for the first time at 8-6.
Yet, Perry was unfazed and having regained his composure was able to get back on level terms with a dramatic black ball climax in the 16th frame, before taking the lead at 9-8 with a superb break of 93 in the next.
While being one frame away from glory was all new territory for the Cambridgeshire cueist, Robertson dug deep in a fashion that proved why he was himself contesting a 15th ranking event final and bidding for a 10th trophy.
The Australian forced the ultimate showdown with a cool 87 and, after Perry missed early on in the decider, Robertson equaled Jimmy White on the all-time winners list with another memorable triumph.
It’s a great start to what promises to be another exhilarating and fascinating campaign as Robertson heads home to try to win the one tournament that has so far eluded his grasp Down Under in Oz.
The only pity for the success in Wuxi is that it wasn’t seen by more people in the arena itself as crowd levels were at an all-time low.
This should not detract from the fact that people would have been watching in their droves at home but, aesthetically at least, it would be better for all involved if the organisers could find a way to fill the empty seats.