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World Snooker Championship: Can Neil Robertson address his poor form in time to challenge for a second Crucible crown?

Neil Robertson has endured his worst season since winning the World Snooker Championship in 2009, but can he turn things around to launch a genuine assault towards a second Crucible title in Sheffield this year? We take a look at what has gone wrong for 'The Thunder from Down Under'.

A season of unprecedented struggle

Make no mistake about it, the 2023/24 World Snooker campaign has been the most challenging of Neil Robertson’s long and distinguished career to date.

‘The Thunder from Down Under’ - one of the sport’s global flagbearers - has earned a reputation for being one of the most talented and flowing cueists to ever grace the green baize.

However, his form this season has fallen way below the standards that he, and we, have come to expect. In fact, statistically, it's pretty much at an all-time low.

The signs were ominous right from the offset of the campaign however, when Robertson started to come up short in numerous matches that he would typically expect to win:

Daniel Wells 6-1 Neil Robertson (International Championship)
Sanderson Lam 4-2 Neil Robertson (English Open)
Liam Highfield 5-3 Neil Robertson (Wuhan Open)
Wu Yize 5-3 Neil Robertson (European Masters)
Jordan Brown 4-1 Neil Robertson (Northern Ireland Open)

It wasn't just the defeats that caused alarm however, it was more so the manner of them.

Robertson's struggles prompted many experts, pundits and snooker fans to question what has been going wrong with his game; but you don't have to do too much digging to figure out some key indicators...

The Aussie's pot success rate over the past year has been significantly down from previous years, his average shot time has risen a couple of seconds too, whilst uncharacteristic errors have become more and more evident.

Not only that, his all-round demeanour around the table that he has long appeared to have owned has vanished. Remarkably, he's not even advanced beyond the third round of a single ranking event in 2023/24!

Is time simply beginning to tell, or are there more legitimate, contributing factors?

Well, it appears to have been a case of the former, with the 42-year-old revealing that he has been struggling with numerous issues off the table; ones that he feels he has finally now addressed.

Seeking home comforts & 'box ticking'...

Following his disappointing Wuhan Open exit to world number 66 Liam Highfield in October, Robertson cited his long absence from his homeland of Australia as an undoubted catalyst for his poor form.

Posting on his personal X (formerly Twitter) account, he said: "I don’t normally do posts like this but just want to address my fans who are a bit confused with results. 

"Everything is fine, just missing Australia a bit and have a big trip planned towards the end of the year where I’ll miss the last few events. I should have gone last year after my best ever season and mentally paid the price. Nobody will know how hard it is being from the other side of the world (I don’t expect them to)."

Robertson returned Down Under over the Christmas period for what he described as a 'full winter reset'; and having recently started to find a little bit of his swagger again, believes it won't be long until he really starts to reap the rewards of break, and slight mental readjustment.

“I don’t have many tournaments left this season, and obviously missed a few taking a trip to Australia, but I made my bed with that, I knew there was a chance that I might have to qualify [for the World Championship], he told Eurosport recently.

“I’ve got to try and clean up the mess from my evil twin over the past 18 months who hasn’t been performing very well.

“My trip to Australia was the most important thing for me. If I had stayed here, I would have had absolutely no chance of taking anything from the season, but going back home for a few weeks was really good for my mental wellbeing.

“It was my first Christmas in 14 years in Australia, and the first time seeing my family other than my mum and dad for four and a half years. Getting to see all my nephews and stuff, getting home, it was really important.”

He added: "There have been other factors behind my form, of course. As well as needing to get back home to Australia, I also had to sort my diet out and I had maybe become a little complacent and lazy after winning so many tournaments before this dip.

"There were probably five or six boxes that I had to tick to get back towards my best, and I’ve now managed to do that, thankfully!"

Neil Robertson's 2023/24 ranking event results:

European Masters: Losing Qualifier
British Open: Round 1
English Open: Losing Qualifier
Wuhan Open: Round 1
Northern Ireland Open: Round 1
International Championship: Round 1
UK Championship: Round 1
German Masters: Round 3
Welsh Open: Round 2

Robertson's one-year ranking also meant he missed out on qualification for the World Grand Prix and Players Championship.

Finding a way back to the winner's circle

For a period of time, not too long ago, Neil Robertson was the man to beat on tour.

Between late 2018 and 2022, the Australian reached a staggering 16 ranking event finals, winning 10 of them, including the UK Championship, Welsh Open, World Grand Prix and China Open.

But since then, titles have been far more difficult to come by.

His triumph at the Tour Championship in April 2022 was the last time he enjoyed success on the big stage - it was also his 23rd ranking title and one that subsequently extended his record of winning a trophy in every calendar year since 2006.

You'd have got incredibly long odds on Robertson failing to capture another ranking crown in 2023, let alone failing to reach a solitary final across the whole calendar year, but that's exactly what transpired.

It's a far cry from the deep runs we have all become accustomed to over the years, and unsurprisingly, as a consequence of so many early eliminations, the statistics that Robertson has always taken huge pride in have started to take a hit.

There's no doubt that the Aussie is one of the most prudent long-potters in the game and shrewdest break-builders too, but the fact that he has amassed just 26 100+ breaks this season tells you everything about where his game is at right now.

Since recording a career-high of 84 during the 2018/19 campaign, Robertson's tons have concerningly been on a downward trajectory:

Neil Robertson's season-by-season 100+ breaks:

2023/24* - 26
2022/23 - 50
2021/22 - 61
2020/21 - 72
2019/20 - 73
2018/19 - 84

2023/24* - Up to and including the Championship League Group stages in February.

Yes, of course there is still time to make a dent on the 50 he achieved last season, providing he can end the campaign in far more prolific fashion; but even then, it's still significantly shy of the 70s and 80s he was racking up a couple of years ago.

Confidence has taken a hit - winning breeds positivity, and positivity breeds winning - the two go hand-in-hand. For Robertson, for well over 12 months now, he's had neither.

His match win ratio of 52 percent is appalling by his own high standards, and to put it in perspective, Martin O'Donnell - the current world number 60 - is at 61 percent!

Over the past 10 years, Robertson has not won less frequently than he is right now; and he, more than anybody, knows that he has to address that incredibly sharpish.

Neil Robertson's season-by-season win percentage:

2023/24* - 52% 
2022/23 - 59% 
2021/22 - 80% 
2020/21 - 62% 
2019/20 - 72% 
2018/19 - 76% 
2017/18 - 68% 
2016/17 - 66% 
2015/16 - 68% 
2014/15 - 73%

2023/24* - win percentage up to and including the Championship League in February.

Addressing his Crucible conundrum

Now, it’s not a foregone conclusion that Robertson will even be featuring at the Crucible in April, but if he does manage to make the cut then he will be desperate to address his modern-day Sheffield struggles.

Since capturing the coveted World Championship back in 2010, the Aussie ace has only gone beyond the Quarter-Finals on one occasion; that being in 2014 when Mark Selby halted his run in the last four. It’s an alarming record for a player of Robertson’s calibre.

Nobody has enjoyed more success in the game from outside of the British Isles than the 42-year-old, and even he himself will have expected to have added at least one more title to his name in the years since his crowning glory well over a decade ago.

He’s 14/1 to make it a double in 2024; significantly longer odds than you could have backed the current world number 15 at in the past.

But, such has been his downward trajectory, and the impressive form of his peers, few will be expecting Robertson to be holding aloft the coveted World Championship silverware for a second time come May.

The more telling question right now is whether the former champion will even secure himself a spot at the sport's spiritual home.

At the time of writing, his world ranking position will just about seal his spot, but should his struggles extend a few weeks further then there is a distinct possibility that he will have to come through two arduous rounds of qualifying; where anything is possible.

Even if he does manage to do that, he then has to find a way to break beyond the last 16, which he has failed to do in 10 of his 19 appearances to date, including in each of the past two years.

Neil Robertson's Crucible record:

2023: Round 2
2022: Round 2
2021: Quarter-Final
2020: Quarter-Final
2019: Quarter-Final 
2018: Round 1
2017: Round 2
2016: Round 1
2015: Quarter-Final
2014: Semi-Final
2013: Round 1
2012: Quarter-Final
2011: Round 1
2010: Winner
2009: Semi-Final
2008: Round 2
2007: Round 2
2006: Quarter-Final
2005: Round 1

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