Every professional player who has competed at the World Championship has a Crucible story to tell – and perhaps only a few are more memorable than Graeme Dott’s tale of triumph.
The 2006 world champion has contested three World Championship finals in all and harbours hope of further glory, having already written his way into snooker folklore at the sport’s most famous venue.
Our snooker writer Gary Moss spoke to him in advance of his qualifying campaign as he bids to make it back to the Crucible for the first time since 2019.
You seem in good form. Do you feel like you’re playing well enough to make it through the cauldron that is the qualifiers and get to the Crucible?
My form’s picked up since the turn of the year. Probably after the UK Championship – I’ve started to pick up a little bit and I feel like I’m playing okay. Something just seems to have clicked and I’ve managed to build on it from tournament to tournament. I got to the semi-finals of the European Masters and the quarter-finals of the Turkish Masters so I’ve got a little bit of confidence from doing that.
Over the years, you’ve been a regular at the Crucible but haven’t made it there the last couple of years. What’s it like sitting at home at the end of the season instead of playing in the World Championship. That must be difficult?
Yes – it’s pretty horrible, really. The first time that I didn’t qualify, I hardly watched any of it. The only time that I watched it was when it got to the semi-finals. Before that, I just couldn’t bring myself to watch it – it’s just a kind of torturous feeling. You don’t want to finish your season at Ponds Forge or the English Institute of Sport. You always want to finish your season at the Crucible; it’s just such a good place to play snooker and it’s gut-wrenching when you don’t get there.
Does your performance at the World Championship define your entire season then?
Yeah, that’s exactly right. Neil Robertson’s had a fantastic season but I’m fairly sure if he’s beaten in the first round at the Crucible, he’ll probably consider it a little bit of a failure. And if you haven’t done that well – if you go on a good run and do well at the World Championship it can feel as if you’ve had a decent year.
You’ve obviously missed out on the Crucible for the past two years. Does that give you a little extra motivation to get back this time?
It does a little bit. I mean you don’t really need any more motivation for this event but you’re also worried that you’ll never get back there. The game is not getting any easier and I’m not getting any younger, so you kind of hope that you’ve got one more good run left and – as I said – hopefully, it will be this year.
I’m not trying to make you feel old Graeme, I promise. But it’s 16 years since you won the world title. All these years on, what’s your lasting memory of that famous win?
To be honest, it was just mainly relief. I had kind of collapsed during the end of the final. I was kind of bottling it, but then managed to re-group and eventually got over the line so it was more a lot of relief than anything else, to be honest.
Clearly that’s the win that defined your career and being world champion defines everyone’s career. I know you’ll be ambitious moving into the future, but does it feel like you’ve achieved a gold star in your career that will never be removed. It must just feel just magic to have your name on that trophy?
There’s no doubt it does – there’s just so many players that are probably better than me that haven’t won it and they must be going into it every year under so much pressure trying to win it. It must get harder and harder every year that they don’t do it. I don’t, obviously, have that because I have won it and – as you said – no matter what happens, I’ve won the world title. I’m not exactly going to be classed as one of the all-time greats but I’ll always be remembered because I won the World Championship and nobody can take that away from you.
You’ve made two finals as well so it wasn’t just a completely out of the blue win either. You seemed to have saved your best performances for the Crucible. It’s a happy hunting ground for you. Is this because it’s a place you enjoy playing, or do you feel you’re better on the bigger occasion?
I just enjoy playing there. Some people just fall on certain venues and they enjoy it. I know there’s so much pressure at the Crucible, but I just enjoy it. I seem to play my best game there and the longer format seems to suit my style of play rather than the shorter stuff. I’ve got a really good record at the Crucible but like so many other players I’ve always had some nightmares as well.
Everyone talks about how tough it is to qualify for the Crucible and this year is no different. But having been to the venue so many times, do you feel more expectation to get there than maybe some other players?
I think you’re probably right and that’s just because I’m a little bit more experienced. I don’t think it makes my job any easier or – on the other hand – I don’t think it makes it any harder either. You’re just a bit more experienced than some of the younger ones, but the younger ones are still good. The standard there is ridiculous, so I certainly don’t feel as if it gives me any advantage. I know what to do and how it’s going to feel. Maybe players who haven’t been there as much don’t really know that yet.
I’m not expecting there to be a magic answer, but what do you think are the key ingredients it takes to get through qualifying?
Mainly, it’s just holding your nerve more than anything else because it’s not an enjoyable process. I’ve said that every single year and I will say that every single year I go to the qualifiers. It’s never an enjoyable match. You never come off one of those matches and say: ‘that was really good – I enjoyed that, and I played really well’. You just don’t get that. It’s just so much nerves, pressure and it’s pure relief when you qualify through and you want to just forget all about it. You’re then just at the Crucible. It’s simply down to holding your nerve because we can all play. A lot of people haven’t been under the amount of pressure. Some players are fighting to stay on the tour and some are trying to get to the Crucible for the first time. It’s really tough.
And just to finish, how do you feel about having to play best-of-11 frames before the final qualifying round? Does that add any more pressure?
Yeah – I’ve never been all that keen on the best-of-11 frame matches. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve actually won those matches over the past few years and then lost the longer match to qualify, but you just feel better in a longer game; it’s a proper game and there’s no excuses when you lose that. If you lose a best-of-19 match you deserve to lose. It feels like it’s the way the game’s going though. There are a lot of best-of-sevens and best-of-nines and it’s not always the best player who wins those games. I’m not a cricket fan, but I’m guessing it’s a bit like cricket fans who don’t like Twenty20 and maintain Test cricket is proper cricket. The Crucible is proper snooker; we only go there once a year but it has proper matches. The best player will always win and you’ve got plenty of sessions to try and get out of it if you’re in a bit of trouble.