Yesterday, Jack Lisowski played a ranking tournament final for the second time in his young life – the climax to the 2019 China Open – and, as was the case the first time (the 2018 Riga Masters), the Cheltenham lad’s opponent was the ‘Thunder from Down Under’, Neil Robertson.
Lisowski had played magnificently all week in Beijing, dispatching John Astley, Gerard Greene and Li Hang in the early rounds, before coming up against Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals. World Champion in 2015 and the winner of six ranking events in a career that has become more successful with age, 42-year-old Bingham is always a difficult man to beat. So it proved on Thursday. He and Lisowski were tied at 5-5 with one frame to play, and Bingham got among the balls first. Then, given a sniff of a chance, Lisowski manufactured what Bingham later described as “an unbelievable dish in the decider” and won.
In the semis Lisowski faced Scott Donaldson, a player younger and greener even than himself, and thrashed him 10-1. Those who rate Lisowski as one of the most preternaturally gifted players in the game – and there are many who do – felt that he was perhaps finally about to win the major tournament that his brilliant if erratic play has for the past three seasons foretold.
The trouble was, his opponent was also one of the most preternaturally gifted players in the game: Neil Robertson. Worse, they had met in three ranking tournament matches before, and Robertson, 10 years Lisowski’s senior, had won all of them. Lisowski had appeared in just one ranking tournament final before, whereas yesterday’s final was Robertson’s 25th. Of the previous 24, he had won 15, one of them the 2010 World Championship. And if all that was not daunting enough for Lisowski, Robertson has had a corker of a season and was on stupendous form.
The only way to win is to win but, for nervily brilliant players such as Lisowski, cracking that first victory is often a burdensome ordeal. Robertson, by contrast, is a winning machine, and he duly raced to a 4-0 lead. By the end of the afternoon session he was 8-2 ahead. Three more frames would be enough.
Lisowski looked agitated, and one cannot imagine that he enjoyed his lapsang souchong. By contrast Robertson strode assuredly into Beijing’s huge but half-empty Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium and, although his young opponent rallied somewhat, winning two frames, the Australian further upped his already stellar game to take the title 11-4. In so doing, he earned £225,000 and thereby overtook world No1 Ronnie O’Sullivan on the one-year money list – £590,500 against £503,500 – and is now world No4. Lisowski, who picked up the £90,000 runner’s-up cheque, is now world No11.
The final ranking tournament of the season – the World Championship at Sheffield’s famous Crucible Theatre – begins on April 20th. Robertson will be one of the favourites. But, if he settles his nerves, could Lisowski spring an almighty surprise? He just could.