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Robertson must try to qualify for worlds after defeat

AP PHOTO

Neil Robertson, Australia's snooker great, faces the indignity of having to battle through qualifying just to reach this year's world championships.

Robertson, who won the crown in 2010, has played in 19 successive championships at the famed Crucible Theatre arena but defeat in the semi-final of the World Open in China on Saturday means he must now go through the qualifying minefield if he wants to play in Sheffield in April.

No wonder the 42-year-old Australian looked so disappointed after his 6-5 defeat to home hero Ding Junhui in Yushan because he had needed to win the event to preserve his top-16 ranking and gain automatic entry to his 20th straight world championships.

But it is a measure of how far Robertson has drifted down the snooker ladder that the serial winner will now have to go through qualifying at another venue in Sheffield from April 8-17 if he wants to make it to the Crucible championship that starts the following week.

He will be seeking to join Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins, Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy in the elite group who won the crown after having come through qualifying.

It will be particularly frustrating for the Melburnian, who had looked back to near his best at times during the Chinese event, and had led 5-4 against Ding before succumbing over a dramatic final two hard-fought frames.

He had been in pole position in the decider after a 53 opening break before Ding kept his nerve to pinch the frame 70-56.

"Tough one to take especially battling on various fronts out there," Robertson said on X afterwards.

He had clearly been frustrated by an excitable crowd, who were backing their hero Ding and constantly making noise or messing with mobile phones as the Australian was attempting to focus at the table.

But though he was reduced to seemingly having to point out one offender to the match referee, Robertson wasn't making any excuses afterwards about the interruptions.

"Found the focus again at 3-4 down and played 3 brilliant frames but wasn't meant to be, just a cm out here or there on match ball and couldn't get through. Well done to Ding it was a great atmosphere," he said.

He took some consolation, though, from the fact that his game seemed to be in better order than for much of his underwhelming season as he racked up two more century breaks (118 and 128) on Saturday.

"My game is in fantastic shape and look forward to the rest of the season," he said.

In the final, Ding will meet Judd Trump, who is one win away from a fifth ranking title of the season after beating Jackson Page 6-2 in the other semi.