Luca Brecel’s unique natural flair and remarkable calmness under pressure were his key qualities as he became the first player from mainland Europe to win the Cazoo World Championship, beating all-time great Mark Selby 18-15 in the final.
A historic contest, in which four-time champion Selby became the first player to make a 147 in a world final, bubbled up to a thrilling conclusion as the Englishman threatened a trademark come-back when he recovered from 16-10 down to 16-15, only for Brecel to take the last two frames, finishing with his fifth century of the match.
The legendary golfer Bobby Jones once said of Jack Nicklaus: “He is playing a game with which I’m not familiar,” and that comment springs to mind when watching Brecel, as he plays snooker like no one else, approaching a huge occasion with such confident nonchalance and relying on flamboyant shot-making. Even the all-time greatest Ronnie O’Sullivan, after being blown away by Brecel in the quarter-finals, insisted that “no one else can play like that.”
The 28-year-old Belgian becomes the 22nd player to lift the famous trophy at the Crucible, and only the fourth non-British champion, after Canada’s Cliff Thorburn, Ireland’s Ken Doherty and Australia’s Neil Robertson. Remarkably, Brecel had never won a match at the Crucible before this tournament, losing in the first round on his first five appearances at the venue. He came within a frame of first round defeat, but a 10-9 victory over Ricky Walden inspired him to much bigger and better things. After knocking out O’Sullivan he made a record comeback in the semi-finals, from 14-5 down to beat Si Jiahui 17-15, then saved his best for the last day of the tournament. A fabulous third session, in which he made four centuries, saw Brecel pulled way from 9-8 to lead 15-10, and in the closing stages he overcame a master of matchplay who was heavy favourite going into the final. Overall Brecel contested 131 frames during the tournament, a new record for the champion.
It’s a fourth ranking title for Brecel and second of the season, having won the Championship League at the start of the campaign. The top prize of £500,000 is by far the biggest of his career, and it boosts him from tenth to second in the world rankings, behind only O’Sullivan who finishes the season as world number one.
The road to the top has been long and winding for a player who was recognised as a prodigy during his early teens, especially when a video of him making a 147 in practice emerged on YouTube. At 17 he became the youngest player to make a Crucible debut, but it took him four more years to break into the world’s top 32. The tour is tough – and there were opinions from outside Brecel’s inner circle that he would not rise to the top unless he moved from Belgium to the UK. His family, particularly father Carlo, have made huge sacrifices in terms of time, travel and finance to allow his career to flourish.
Tonight is their reward and, as always, Brecel has done it his own way. He never wanted to move to the UK, in fact he drives through the night in between matches to spend time in Belgium with new girlfriend Laura. He insists he doesn’t practise. Before the first session of the final, he arrived at the venue five minutes before the break-off. An orthodox coach would tell him he is doing everything wrong, but he has found a way to do what every player strives for: to compete with total freedom, uninhibited by fear.
His stylish game and affable personality will, it is hoped, make him a role model for sport in Belgium. The country already has two promising rookies in Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq, and perhaps many more will follow.
Selby missed out on becoming only the fourth player, after O’Sullivan, Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis, to lift the trophy five times at the Crucible. The 39-year-old from Leicester had won his last four finals, in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021, but fell 3-0 behind this time and was never quite able to get back on level terms. Scoring a momentous 147 in the 16th frame, on Sunday evening, is a consolation, but it’s silverware that Selby craves. The 22-time ranking event winner finishes the season fifth in the world.
Leading 15-10 after the third session, Brecel took the first frame of the concluding chapter with a break of 67, before Selby pulled one back with a run of 78 for 16-11. In frame 28, Brecel led 36-20 when he missed a tough long pot on the penultimate red, and his opponent made a fine clearance to give his fight-back momentum.
The tide looked to be turning as Brecel failed to score a point in the next three frames – Selby’s breaks of 122, 50 and 52 saw him close to 16-15. And he had first chance in frame 32 but, after potting the opening red, crucially missed the black to a top corner. Brecel made 51, then Selby had one more opportunity after fluking a red, but failed to pot the brown to a centre pocket and soon it was 17-15.
A safety error from Selby early in the next proved his last shot as Brecel wrapped it up with a 112, raising his arms to the crowd as he cruised over the winning line.
“It’s a dream come true, the best moment of my life,” said Brecel, from Maasmechelen. “Especially the way I did it, beating Ronnie, Mark Williams and then Selby in the final who is the toughest opponent of all. I could have easily lost my first match but made a good break in the last frame against Ricky, and ever since then I have played my best stuff. It’s unreal, after not winning a game here for so long.
“At 16-13 I felt I wasn’t going to win. I was too nervous, I couldn’t play my shots and missed so many long balls. Mark got stronger and put me in so much trouble. When you are feeling it, it’s so tough to deal with. I just needed a good chance to settle down again. I got that at 16-15 and made a 50 break, after that I was more relaxed. I needed to stay in front, if it had gone 16-16 then there was only one winner. In the last frame I felt I would make a good break. It has been an unbelievable two weeks and this trophy is beautiful!
“I didn’t expect to win, then all of a sudden I was clearing the table to become World Champion. The only thing in my head was that I wanted to share the moment with my family. It’s going to take a couple of weeks to sink in.
“The interest in snooker has been exploding in Belgium for the last couple of days so I don’t know what’s going to happen now but I can’t wait to see it. There is no reason for me to feel any pressure any more, I have achieved the ultimate dream, it is life changing and I’m sure it will set me up for many more things to come.”
Selby said: “I battled and gave everything but every credit to Luca he deserves it. Congratulations to Luca, he’s a great talent and a great lad with a lovely family. I wish him all the best. It was great to make a 147 at the Crucible, I never thought I would do it in a final.
“It was an amazing achievement and something I will remember for rest of my life but it’s not about me today, it is about Luca, he played fantastic over the two days.”
Article by WST.