The final of the first ranking tournament of the 2018/19 snooker season, the Riga Masters, was played in the Latvian capital last night, with world No10 Neil Robertson beating Jack Lisowski, ranked 26, 5-2.
It was closer than the scoreline portrayed it, however. Both men are freakishly talented left-handers, brilliant long-potters who build breaks effortlessly and dash off frames in under 10 minutes once they get among the balls, yet very little of that fluency was on display in last night.
Robertson won the opening frame after a bit of the nervy cut-and-thrust that one expects to see in the first stages of a final, then took the second with a fluked black that set in motion on Lisowski’s handsome face the contortions that his supporters have long recognised as the first signs that his brittle equilibrium is about to wobble. Then Robertson banged in a business-like 117 break to make it 3-0.
In a best-of-nine match, the Lisowski of two seasons ago might well have collapsed and lost 5-0. But, having played well often and sometimes brilliantly last season, reaching his first ranking semi-final in Shanghai eight months ago, he is beginning to man-up. He won a scrappy fourth frame to trail 3-1, but his highest break was still only 34 and he was clearly uncomfortable with the table, on which he had not hitherto played during the tournament, whereas Robertson had.
As so often in short-form matches, the fifth frame was pivotal. Had Lisowski won it, as well he might, he would have pulled back to 3-2 – a one-frame deficit that no player, however flaky, would regard as insurmountable. But win it he did not. Robertson had the run of the balls when it mattered, nearly but not quite going in-off twice when the reds were spread invitingly, and finally potted a good red and a tricky black before clearing to the pink: 4-1.
Lisowski looked tormented, but dug deep and won a scrappy sixth frame with a break of 38: hardly a royal compilation yet utterly crucial. He was now 4-2 down, but his sullen countenance showed that he was brooding: had Robertson not fluked that black in frame two, had he himself won frame five when he had had the chance, the score would now be 3-3, perhaps he was thinking. Did he allow those ‘if only’ and ‘what if’ ruminations to distract him? We know not, but Robertson won the next frame and took the match 5-2.
Nonetheless, Lisowski has started the season extremely well, reaching albeit not winning his first ranking final, and lost to a snooker grandee, a former world No1, the world champion in 2010, and the winner of 14 ranking tournaments now, placing him joint sixth on the all-time list. He turned professional when Lisowski was seven, begad.
So was Lisowski over the moon? No. As sick as a parrot? No. Will he win his first ranking tournament this season? Oh yes.