Yesterday, Neil Robertson and Stuart Bingham played a long, tense and nervy Welsh Open final, but before that they had performed brilliantly for six consecutive days.
Robertson had compiled three breaks of 140 or more, including a 147 maximum, and had moved smoothly into the final via one of the most imperious semi-final demolitions many of us had ever seen, beating Hossein Vafaei 6-0, potting everything in sight, making only one unforced error throughout. Meanwhile, Bingham had scored 10 centuries in the six matches he had played on his way to the final, and had won all six by hefty margins.
Yesterday, though, everything changed. The morning was characterised by poor play from both players, especially Bingham. At 5-2 down he was palpably fretful, and the 102 break he conjured up to trim Robertson’s lead to 5-3 was an unmistakable relief to him.
But in the evening, again, he looked uneasy. Frame nine was scrappy, but Robertson won it, and Robertson won frame 10 too, which he took with an orderly 56 break. Bingham, now 7-3 down, began to twitch and tut, and even to admonish spectators who would not keep still enough for his liking, shouting across to Robertson “Friend of yours, is he?” when one chap moved in his eyeline as he was down on a shot. He scraped the frame though: 7-4.
Frame 12 was a classic – 45 minutes of timorous, brittle, skittish play, most of it missed pots enlivened by skilful safety – brought to an end when Robertson fluffed an easy-ish brown into the green pocket, unluckily developing a previously safe-on-the-side-cushion blue, enabling Bingham to step forward and dish up to win the frame and cut his deficit to 7-5.
At that point I thought Robertson had lost it. He had had chances to win that 12th frame – many – and in squandering them he had blown an opportunity to go 8-4 up. That kind of ‘if only’ turnaround vexes players: an 8-4 lead in a best-of-17 is a comfy situation; to be only 7-5 ahead instead, your opponent chipper again, feels correspondingly horrible.
Was Bingham chipper again? He was. Stout he may be, but now he was nipping around the table, his play intrepid, fluent and successful. He won the next two frames 78-1 and 87-9. The scores were now level: 7-7.
Robertson had not compiled a 50-plus break since frame 10, and had not made a century all day. In frame 15 he missed a red into the left middle and let Bingham in. Bingham failed to capitalise, however, and a disjointed frame ensued, eventually won by Robertson 61-36. He was now 8-7 ahead.
Then something odd happened. Bingham broke off, leaving a feasible but difficult long red to the top left – and Robertson, whose long game (usually his great strength) had been iffy all day, potted it.
He potted more, then more again, accelerating as he went, and won frame and match with a breezy, sparkling, vivacious, ebullient and finally joyful 83 break.