Reaching two ranking finals in as many weeks has given Graeme Dott fresh impetus and the confidence that he still has plenty to give at snooker’s top level.
When Dott scored an excellent 6-2 win over Judd Trump at the UK Championship in December, the signs of his return to form were obvious. He joked: “I get asked the same questions like ‘are you still playing snooker?’ by people like the delivery men and I say ‘yeah I’m still playing, still trying.’”
Three months later, whoever knocks on his door might just congratulate Dott on his recent success before handing over a parcel or pint of milk. At the German Masters he beat the likes of Barry Hawkins and Shaun Murphy to reach his first ranking final since 2010, though he was no match for Mark Williams, losing 9-1.
Just a week later Dott was back in the final again, at the Shoot Out. After winning six one-frame matches to get there, Dott almost pulled off a miraculous victory against Michael Georgiou. Trailing by 61 points with just four minutes on the clock, Dott set about the balls with speed and trademark tenacity. Unfairly labelled as a methodical player, Dott is in fact one of the quickest thinkers on the tour and the only player to reach the Shoot Out semi-finals three times. As Matthew Selt put it on Twitter: ‘We now know Graeme can do 0-60 in 1.6 seconds.’
In the end it wasn’t quite enough as Georgiou won a safety battle on the pink and Dott had to settle for another runner-up prize. But the 40-year-old Scot is encouraged by his recent results and performances.
“It has been good to play well for a sustained period,” said the 2006 World Champion. “In the last few years I have played well in certain matches but not put a good run together. I was telling people I was playing well just not getting the results, at least I have shown now I was telling the truth.
“Berlin was important for me. Beating players like Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins has done a lot for my confidence. After beating Shaun I really felt as if I could go on and win it, and even during the final I felt good. But Mark just played so well, there wasn’t that much I could do and I didn’t get many chances. If I had lost 9-1 having missed lots of chances I would have been really disappointed, but it wasn’t that kind of match.
“The atmosphere at the Tempodrom was fantastic, if you don’t relish that you should just quit. I really enjoyed the week and it has made me want to push on and play better.”
In the past 15 years, only five players have reached the World Championship final three times or more. Dott is among the quintet, and in very good company alongside Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby. The player nicknamed the Pocket Dynamo lost his first Crucible final in 2004 against O’Sullivan, then returned two years later and got his name etched on snooker’s most famous trophy after beating Peter Ebdon 18-14 in a marathon battle. In 2010 Dott played perhaps the best snooker of his career to reach the final in Sheffield, but finished second best to Neil Robertson.
Given his record on the sport’s biggest stage, it is surprising that Dott failed to reach a ranking final between that 2010 clash with Robertson and the German Masters just a few weeks ago. But away from the table, he has faced challenges which could have broken a lesser man. He suffered from depression after the death of his mentor and father-in-law Alex Lambie.
For the past three years, Dott has suffered from a variety of sleep problems. One of them is sleep apnea, a serious disorder characterised by pauses in breathing. “I have been to a lot of sleep clinics and the doctors are gradually getting to the cause of it, initially they thought sleep apnea was the root cause but it now looks like it is something else,” he said.
“I have watched videos of myself sleeping and it’s like something out of The Exorcist. I am constantly twisting and turning and I never go into a deep sleep. Because of that I feel tired all the time. The best way I could describe it as that I feel as if I have jet lag constantly. Obviously that makes playing snooker difficult. Hopefully we can get to the bottom of it eventually.”
And he makes no secret of the fact that he finds spending time at tournaments, away from wife Elaine, son Lewis and daughter Lucy, difficult.
“Over the years I have had issues away from snooker and as a consequence there have been times where I didn’t want to play, didn’t want to practise,” he said. “All though my career I have had spells where I have been in love with snooker, and spells where I have been fed up with it. And the moment I am enjoying it and getting good results. But one thing I definitely won’t miss when I retire is the travelling. The tour is so busy now we spend a lot of time away, and that is tough for anyone with a family.”
Dott’s immediate goal earn a top 16 spot on the two year ranking list in time for the World Championship, or battle his way through the qualifying rounds as he has in each of the last three years.
He added: “I want to get to Crucible, it’s the best way to finish the season and I know what I can do there.”
Dott’s career highlights
1994: Turns pro.
1999: Makes a 147 at the British Open. Reaches his first ranking final at the Scottish Open.
2004: Reaches the World Championship final for the first time before losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan.
2006: Captures his first ranking title on the biggest stage, beating Peter Ebdon to win the World Championship. Parades the trophy around Ibrox, home of his beloved Rangers FC. Climbs to number two in the world.
2007: Wins the China Open in Beijing, beating Jamie Cope in the final.
2010: Beats Mark Selby on his way to the final at the Crucible but loses to Neil Robertson.
2018: Runner-up at the German Masters and the Shoot Out.