Thursday 14 December 2017

Selby joins greats after epic victory

Mark Selby holds the world championship trophy with his daughter Sofia
Maria and wife Vikki Layton at the Crucible Theatre. Photo credit: Steven Paston/PA Wire
Mark Selby holds the world championship trophy with his daughter Sofia Maria and wife Vikki Layton at the Crucible Theatre. Photo credit: Steven Paston/PA Wire

John Skilbeck

Mark Selby completed a remarkable turnaround to beat John Higgins and win his third World Championship title with an 18-15 victory in Sheffield.

Selby had trailed 10-4 at one point on Sunday but after pulling back three frames before the close of play he dominated yesterday.

"It's unbelievable, I can't believe it, I'm really still pinching myself," Selby said. "Big congratulations to John. From 10-4 to get out at 10-7 yesterday, I'd hit the wall, I had nothing left. He'd outplayed me most of the day, but today I came back a lot more fresh and played a lot better."

Selby admitted his main thought at 10-4 down was to go down fighting, but he would ultimately do a lot more.

"I was missing everything, I had nothing left. I thought, 'Just try to pull yourself together and find something, if you're going to go down, go down fighting'. Fortunately enough for me John missed a few balls you wouldn't expect him to and that gave me a chance to come back."

Wobble

There was one potential wobble for Selby late on, however, as he looked to go 17-14 clear.

He had attempted to play a snooker behind the black but was ruled to have trickled up short by referee Jan Verhaas. Verhaas briefly questioned his own decision, consulting Steve Davis and John Parrott in the BBC studio, but they and Brendan Moore - the referee on scoring duty - could not agree so Verhaas elected to stand by his original decision.

"I trust Jan," Selby said. "Jan said he didn't see it hit, he spoke to John and Steven and they saw it differently. John said, 'Do you want a replay?' which was kind of him. I had to get it out of my mind, you're in a world final at the end of the day. But congratulations to John. He's a great guy off the table and he's a great guy on the table."

Higgins, who had been seeking his fifth title, could only admire the way Selby kept his cool.

"He's granite, isn't he? Granite," he said. "In the second session I had my chances. There was a missed pink to the middle bag that could have made it 9-3. That might not be the difference but it was a big, big frame, and Mark did what he always does and cleared up under pressure. He's a fantastic champion.

"It's been an unbelievable tournament on the 40th anniversary. I gave everything and I've come up short to a great champion. I'm proud of myself but he was too good on the day."

Higgins, asked about the black-ball controversy, said: "Sometimes it's not black and white I suppose."

Asked about Selby's prospects of further world titles, he added: "I think Mark will add to that, whether it's one, two, three or four. He's the toughest player I've ever played.

"He's just granite, he really is. I take my hat off to him. I still think I can come back next year and give it a good show."

Selby's victory made him just the fourth player to successfully defend a world title in Sheffield, after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan. That level of company reflects Selby's status as a modern-day snooker great.

No player had come back to win from a greater deficit than six frames in a World Championship final since Dennis Taylor trailed Steve Davis by 8-0 and 9-1 in their 1985 classic.

Crucially Selby launched his revival late in the day on Sunday, thrusting a fist pump after reeling off three successive frames, and planting the first seeds of doubt into the mind of Higgins.

The seeds became giant oaks of disbelief yesterday afternoon as Higgins saw his lead evaporate and Selby begin to stretch clear.

The 33-year-old from Leicester led 13-11 coming into the evening, and withstood a late Higgins flourish to get his hands on the trophy.

O'Sullivan knows exactly how Higgins must have been feeling, having had Selby on the ropes at 10-5 in the 2014 final before falling to a punishing counter-attack.

O'Sullivan watched the drama unfold from a television studio, and tweeted: "If you want to win events you need to play like selby. It's the new modern way of playing..#lethalsnooker"

Selby's title last year came on the same night that Leicester City won the Premier League title, with even Selby distracted by his beloved football team's success.

This time the glory was all his, the £375,000 top prize taking him to a staggering £930,875 for the season - an all-time high.

Selby also matches the record of five ranking titles in a season, previously achieved by Hendry in 1990/91 and Ding in 2013/14.

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