Earlier this week at the UKPTC4 event in Gloucester, two-time Masters champion and current world number two Mark Selby was kind enough to become the latest player to be interviewed for PSB.
PSB: So Mark, as we are heading towards the halfway point of the season, what do you make of your campaign so far? Obviously you have won in Fürth, but you have struggled a bit in the full-ranking events to some extent…
Mark Selby: Yeah, just a little bit of inconsistency really. I don’t think that I have performed as well as I have done over the last few years, but the game is tough at the moment.
For the last four or five years I have had good seasons, where I have moved up the rankings every year, so I think that it was always going to be a matter of time before I had a little bit of a slump. I’m sure that everyone does in their career, unfortunately for me at the moment it seems to be now, but it’s just a matter of playing through it and coming out the other side.
PSB: The obvious question that everyone will ask is how is your neck? Is that a factor at the minute?
MS: I’m playing now with no discomfort, where in the World Championship and in China Open last season, I couldn’t really get down without pain. But yeah it has not completely gone 100%. I don’t know whether it ever will do. I’m sure that it would if I just stopped playing snooker and just rested it, but obviously that is not the case with having so many tournaments now. As long as I can play without getting down with too much pain though it’s great.
PSB: Is it affecting the amount of practice that you can do at the moment?
MS: No not really. I have been given exercises to do from a sports physio that I did for a little while, but I have not done them for some time now.
Like I say it has definitely improved a lot more and I’m getting down and I am practising. I can still play for five or six hours a day without discomfort and I can still play all of the shots, whereas before I was struggling with certain shots, like rest shots and everything. But yeah it’s a lot better.
PSB: As well recently, the world number one ranking has changed hands, how important is it for you to get that back?
MS: Yeah, I mean obviously it would be great for me to get that back. It was great for me to even get that in the first place, it was a great achievement.
With how I have played, I probably didn’t deserve to keep it as long as I have done with the performances that I have had. Take nothing away from Judd Trump though, he has been really consistent over the last four or five months and he thoroughly deserves it.
Overall though, I would rather be number five in the world and be playing well and competing for tournaments, than number one in the world and struggling and not really performing as good as what I can do.
So at the moment I don’t see it as a massive knock of confidence, but at the same time I would like to get it back.
PSB: Obviously the best way to do that is by winning tournaments, you have won a couple of ranking events already in your career, are you happy with what you have achieved so far?
MS: I think I’ve won two ranking tournaments and I have got to probably four or five finals other than that and lost, so yeah a little bit disappointed. I would like to have done a little bit better.
But at the same time the standard is tough, so just to even get to finals nowadays is an achievement, never mind going on to win them. Hopefully I can just carry on playing, get my form back and another tournament will be around the corner.
PSB: You have run into some top performances as well, Judd in China for example, you played so well in that match, you couldn’t have done any more could you?
MS: Yeah, the first session I felt that I played well and Judd played well, just a little bit of run of the ball here and there that made the difference to being in front.
But like you say the second session, I couldn’t have done any more than what I did and to be fair to Judd he was exactly the same. I was making a century break, he was making a century break and it was just on the day really.
Obviously when we were playing like that, it was just a bit of run of the ball here and there. He played well and since then he has kicked on to bigger and better things.
PSB: We also have the potential change to a money list coming up, the points system at the moment rewards consistency as well, do you have a view on perhaps the change of emphasis that a money list would have?
MS: I don’t think that it would make a massive difference. Psychologically, it is just a matter of needing to keep winning matches. If you keep winning matches, you gain the money which will put you up the ranking list.
At the same time, I am not sure whether it can work. Everyone needs to start in the same round and I think that the people like Ronnie O’Sullivan (if he is playing) and John Higgins, I’m sure obviously the viewers want to see them at the televised stages. If they are all starting in the same round, they are not guaranteed to get through to the televised stages, so at that point somebody like Barry Hearn might think about holding their matches over to the TV stage and then I don’t know, it gets a bit awkward.
I think how it is at the minute, I think it is working. People like Judd for instance have had a good couple of seasons and he has been rewarded for it and got to number one. The way that the ranking system was before, you could have a great season and probably not move up at all because everyone was so protected, so now the way it is at the moment, I think it works.
When they have had the money list running alongside the points, I don’t think that there is a massive amount of change. If it were a huge change then yeah fair enough, but if you look at the money list and then the ranking list, not that many people have moved huge amounts apart from O’Sullivan, who has moved from 17th to number one.
At the end of the day you have just got to play matches, stuff like that is out of our control. We just need to get on, play games and try to win matches.
PSB: And you have seen the drawsheet for Germany, it’s a little bit flatter, what do you think to that?
MS: Yeah I think it’s good. It is the same with the PTCs, the European ones. I think it was good what they did in Poland where they had the early stages here and it was 32 over there.
I think for financial reasons there are a lot of players who go across and pay for their flights, hotels, lose first round, have no money and are out of pocket straight away. Formats like that with the European ones in Germany, I think are good.
PSB: It’s hard as well with the APTCs isn’t it? Players flying out there for four frames potentially…
MS: That’s what I’m saying yeah. Some players probably can’t afford it, but feel as though they have to go because they need the points, so it’s a tough one. Whichever system they do, it’s not going to benefit everybody, someone will lose out whichever way.
PSB: In terms of your ranking, one factor in you getting to number one was obviously your remarkable consistency in the opening rounds, until the World Championship at the end of last season…
MS: Yeah, making no excuses, I think that definitely the injury that I had to my neck knocked my confidence a little bit. I went to China playing well and I won my first-round game against Li Hang, I played really well.
After that though I pulled out of the tournament and I couldn’t really compete in the World Championship. I then more or less had six weeks off, not even practising because I couldn’t really, so I think that my confidence was knocked a bit through there and it has probably shown a bit by the way that I have performed.
It’s just a matter of just trying to get out of that really, because even now when I play, I always think to myself from day to day, will I get down and will it hurt again? Can I not play and will I pull it? I am always wary of certain shots I play now when I’m stretching, whereas before obviously I thought nothing of them.
PSB: Do you think that it was caused by the snooker, by over-playing?
MS: I’m not sure. I went to see a sports physio, they said it could be, or I could have just slept funny and done it, or it could be repetitive strain from the years and years of playing, so I don’t know.
I don’t think that there is any particular reason for it, it was just unfortunate that it happened, particularly at the time that it did. But then with an injury like that, there is never a good time for it to happen.
PSB: Players like yourself and Shaun Murphy, you have played everything really since the changes came in, what is your approach to PTCs, are they warm-ups for the other tournaments or do you take them as seriously as you would the major events?
MS: I approach them and take them as seriously, but at the same time if I don’t win them, I don’t see it as the end of the world, whereas at a ranking event if you lose, you are a bit cut up and it hurts.
I still try to enter everything because I still love the game now as much as I did do when I first started playing. Any kind of tournament where it’s good match practice and keeps you sharp, I’m all for that.
With obviously struggling at the moment as well, that’s the only way that I can get my confidence back, by playing in tournaments and trying to get some good wins.
PSB: Do you feel like you are getting on top of your game at the moment?
MS: Yeah gradually, I’ve had patches. Like you say, I went to Germany and I won that and I thought that I had my confidence back, but then I had another couple of knocks.
The tour is hard at the moment. You can’t take that much for granted, there are players out there who are playing really well, getting to tournaments and then losing. It’s not because they are struggling, it’s just because the competitive side is so tough.
PSB: One thing I did want to ask you, do you reads the blogs and Twitter and so on…?
MS: I am on Twitter but I don’t really update it that much at all. I mean I do obviously go on yours and read yours to see what people are saying to keep in the know so to speak, but I don’t do the Twitter thing myself.
I used to have a guy who worked for the local media paper back home and he used to do it for me. He would ring me up before a tournament, see how I feel and put it on, but I’d rather just stay out of it!
PSB: The main reason that I asked is that there are people out there who have criticised you for being negative at times. For me it all stemmed back to a blog you did after the German Masters final last year when you said that you have a habit of starting off a bit slowly in matches. Do you feel like it is justified?
MS: I don’t know. The trouble with me is that obviously I want to win so badly, that a lot of the time when I go out to play my matches, at the start of the match, rather than going out to let my arm go, sometimes I probably try to protect my lead too much because I don’t want to get off to a bad start, so I don’t know.
Sometimes I probably play not to lose instead of playing to win, but it’s difficult, that’s just my approach. And then once I get involved in a match a lot of the time, sometimes I go two or three frames behind and then I seem to let my arm go and be more attacking and play.
That’s one of the reasons why I don’t go on Twitter. I understand that everyone has got their own opinions and there are people who are going to say that I didn’t deserve to be number one in the world and people who will say that I did. Obviously everyone has an opinion and I understand that.
PSB: Another player that I have often compared you with is John Higgins, because he is such a brilliant all-round player and when you are at your best, you are of a similar mould. Have you modelled your game on a particular player or is it just your natural style?
MS: Not really no, I just play the game as it comes. Like you say, I do like to think that when I am at my best, I can break-build and compete in the scoring as good as anyone and at the same time if I have to mix it in the safety battles then I feel like I can do that as well.
But at the same time, if you are struggling then you can’t, but that’s the same with anyone, if anyone is struggling, they don’t seem to be playing as well and scoring as well.
PSB: Last season you broke the centuries record again, it just shows how good a scorer you are doesn’t it?
MS: Yeah the last two years I think I’ve had 50-odd centuries, last year I had 55 or something. But then it just shows how much I am struggling this year, I’ve probably had about three! So I don’t think I’ll be beating that this year.
The last two years have been really good but at the same time, same in any sport, confidence is massive and if you are low on confidence it doesn’t matter how good you are, you aren’t going to perform. At the same time, if you are high on confidence you don’t have to be the best player in the world and you can still play well.
Confidence is everything and the only way that I am going to get that back is by practising, keeping working hard and by getting wins.
PSB: I was going to ask about practice because seeing you here and at the last PTC, you always seem to come in and have a structured practice before your matches, is that something that you have always done?
MS: It’s not so much a structured practice, just a matter of getting your arm going and trying to loosen up really. People are different, some won’t practice before a match and some people will but I dunno, it’s just something that I have always done.
PSB: A lot of people always say that you are one of the most improved players on the tour, you turned pro in 1999 and you reached the final in Scotland in 2003, the semi-finals in China a year earlier. The Crucible was your big breakthrough when you beat Higgins in 2006, before reaching the final the year after. What was the catalyst for that, was it just hard work?
MS: Yeah, I mean early doors it was all just new to me. I was the underdog and coming through, under no pressure, so to get to the final so early in my career in Scotland was a great achievement and the same with China as well.
But then for a few years after that I seemed to die off. I had a few off the table problems and stuff and then coming back to the World Championship, I’d qualified that year and went there with nothing to lose. I wasn’t expecting anything of myself, just going there to enjoy it and I seemed to play really well.
PSB: You played in 2005, the first time that I had gone to the Crucible also and you played Higgins, then you beat him in 2006. How much did those matches help you the following year when you did make it to the final?
MS: Definitely, the first time to qualify there, I didn’t know what to expect and when I first sat here in my seat and realised how close your opponent is and the crowd, it was a little bit daunting.
To play John Higgins it was always going to be a tough ask, I lost 10-5 I think and then the year after knowing what to expect I went there and I wasn’t like a rabbit in the headlights. I knew what I was going into. I put a good performance in and beating John that second year it gave me the belief to kick on from there and that’s why I have done what I’ve done.
PSB: Does that final still feel fresh or does it feel like ages ago now? Do you remember it clearly?
MS: Yeah vaguely. I’ve got the picture of me playing a shot at the table and John Higgins sat in his chair in a frame in my office, so I look at that every now and again. When I look at it I feel as though I can’t remember any of the shots, it just seems so far away, especially now having as many tournaments as we have, I can’t remember one tournament to the next.
But yeah it would be great to get back there. In 2010 I got to the semi-finals and thought that might have been my year, but Graeme played really well in the semis…
PSB: He just kept you at bay didn’t he?
MS: Yeah, every time I seemed to get within one frame or two frames, he always seemed to play a good solid frame and shut me out again. I think I got to 14-13 was the closest and then he seemed to pull away again.
Hopefully if I keep knocking on the door, sooner or later I’ll get there. I feel like I have got the game when I am playing well enough to compete and to get there, so it is just a matter of continuing to put the hard work in.
PSB: The year after against Ding, you had played so well against Stephen Hendry in the previous round, did you feel the raised levels of expectation following such a strong win?
MS: Yeah it’s tough. The last two years I had played Hendry and played fantastic in the last 16, last year I had six centuries or something. Going into the Ding game I was really confident, but I think that I started off a little slow. I lost the first two sessions, was 10-6 behind, managed to get to 10-all, then I think I missed a red along the bottom rail when I only needed the red and I tried to play for a colour. I think that if I had gone 11-10 up then I would have probably won the match because Ding seemed to be faltering a bit.
But yeah I was disappointed because like you say, having such a good performance against Hendry the match before and then performing the way I did for two sessions against Ding was disappointing.
PSB: Moving on we have the Masters coming up at the Alexandra Palace, what did you make of the venue, obviously you have such memories of Wembley…
MS: Yeah it was good. The trouble is with Wembley that it was such a big arena. I think that they only used a quarter of it, probably even less. I think it held something like 15,000 people and we were using it for 2,000.
Obviously at the minute I am going to say Wembley because it was where I had my two wins, but as a venue I thought that the Alexandra Palace was good, the set-up that they had last year at the tournament, I really enjoyed it. I didn’t do as well as I did at Wembley but I thought it was good and I am always open for a change anyway as far as venues go.
PSB: Why do you think that you performed so well at Wembley, was it the format or any other particular reason?
MS: I think that it was definitely something to do with the format because every time you play with a one-table situation. You always feel like you are going out into a semi-final or a final because that is always a one-table situation, so you just always seem to get yourself up for that because there is nothing else going on around you.
There isn’t another cubicle with another match going on or claps from another table, so you always feel like you can just stay in the moment and concentrate on that one table.
PSB: Generally speaking, given the recent changes to the main tour and so on, what do you think of the direction that the sport is going at the moment?
MS: It’s great, I think that it’s really healthy at the moment. Before Barry got involved, I thought that if he got involved and he couldn’t do it, I didn’t think that anyone could because what he has done with darts and everything else, I think he has done fantastic, the same with boxing. Everything he seems to turn his hand to seems to turn to gold.
You look at snooker and what he has done, a few years ago we only had six tournaments and then having four or five months off, not knowing where your next tournament was coming from and now if you want to have a break, you more or less have to pull out of tournaments, which is a great position to be in.
PSB: Going back to what we were saying before with the PTCs and entering them when your heart is not in it, if you have played so much snooker that you want a break, but at the same time you want the points, do you just enter them all? I think that last season you missed the one in Poland?
MS: Yeah, the reason being because it was close to Christmas and I thought that I would spend a bit more time with family and stuff.
But the PTCs, for somebody like myself, I’m probably in a fortunate position that I can skip a few more than some of the other top players in the top 16, because I have got the points there to secure myself, but a lot of the lower ranked players don’t feel like they can afford to miss them because they need to be catching up the points and getting through.
PSB: Do you think that there is a danger of burn out at the moment?
MS: Yeah definitely. I felt that last year in the UK Championship I think. I more or less played in everything, there was me and Shaun who played the most, more than anybody else and going to the UK, not making any excuses I went there and I said to Mukesh [Parmar], I just felt as if I had nothing left. When I came to the table I felt flat and I would put that down to maybe overdoing it and playing too much.
But at the same time it’s just trying to find a balance. You could be sat at home and thinking I won’t play in that PTC, but at the same time your heart tells you that you want to play in it, your head is telling you that you shouldn’t so you can rest for a bigger tournament coming up. It’s a tough one.
PSB: Changing subject, you are obviously from Leicester which is a real snooker hotbed, what are your thoughts on Willie Thorne’s closing recently?
MS: Yeah sad times really. That was where I started my career and I have got a lot of great memories there. When I was a junior, for me and I have spoken to a lot of other players as well, it was probably the best club in the country. They used to run great tournaments there and the amount of players that used to turn up, there we about 80-100 players each time, whether it was juniors or pro-ams so yeah sad times.
But for the last few years it has been really struggling, so at the same time I have always thought that it was probably only a matter of time before it did go under. But even though it has actually happened it is still quite sad.
PSB: Do you practice a lot with players from Leicester, obviously you have got Ben Woollaston and Tom Ford…
MS: Well Ben plays at my club where I play, so I play Ben a little bit. I am really good friends with Tom but I don’t play him that much. I should play him a lot more because it’s only down the road, but other than that I don’t really play anybody from Leicester.
You have got young Joe O’Conor who is coming through and has just started, but yeah probably Ben really. Everybody else who I play, I will travel to play, like Michael Holt, Joe Perry or Nigel Bond who are all within an hour or hour and half of me or so.
PSB: I was watching Joe O’Conor this morning and he impressed me against Ricky, making a really good 75 to go 3-3, only for Ricky to make an 89 off the break-off…
MS: Yeah he was saying. I’ve known him for a few years and he always used to play 8-ball a lot, he was coming through the ranks and he has won a lot of major tournaments at 8-ball. But I always thought that if he ever wants to do anything, he needs to turn to snooker at some point because there is no money in 8-ball at all.
Especially with the snooker tour the way it is now, there is a great opportunity for him. In my eyes he probably should have done it couple of years earlier, but I mean he is still only 17 so has plenty of time on his side.
PSB: Do you still dabble with pool at all, but I suspect that you won’t have time will you?
MS: I don’t play in any major tournaments no. I still sign on at the club where I practice, they play on a Thursday just with a few friends, so if I am here I will go and watch or go and play. But as you say the time we get at home is few and far between now!
PSB: In terms of your hopes over the next few years, are there any particular targets that you have got?
MS: I’d like to get the number one spot back but at the same time, just win more tournaments. The Worlds is my aim, the same as a lot of players who haven’t won it. But yeah, just to carry on obviously enjoying the game. If you are enjoying it you can play your best snooker. I will keep working hard and see what happens.
PSB: Generally speaking have you got a most memorable tournament at all?
MS: As far as winning a tournament, I would have to say the Masters, but as far as the tournament in general it would have to be the Crucible, just for the arena. The arena that we play in is as good as any tournament, especially when we get to the one-table situation.
PSB: Any particular year? Presumably when you reached the final in 2007?
MS: Yeah I think so, there were a lot of great emotions up and down. I played Shaun in the semi-finals, which was really tough because we have known each other for years and came through the junior ranks together.
I always say to him that it would be great to play in a final, but unfortunately we met in the semis and every tournament we play in, we always seem to be in the same half of the draw and meeting at some stage rather than the final.
PSB: I was there on Thursday when you played in the Premier League in Doncaster, that was a laugh wasn’t it?
MS: Yeah it was obviously a tough situation for me to go in, the same with Shaun as well because neither of us could go through and it was a strange match to play in and to approach. So it was a matter of just going there and trying your best and having a laugh.
Shaun played quite well to be fair, we had both decided before the match that we were going to try and go for a 147, I had one chance to have a go at it and he had five (laughs). The last frame was a good chance until he snookered himself on the black.
I enjoy the Premier League, I mean the way I have performed this year is probably just the story of my season and how it has been when I have been struggling.
PSB: I was going to say, was it to do with the format, but then you did so well when you first played in the Premier League…
MS: Yeah I mean the format is different this year to what it was when I was first in it, but I don’t see that as any different. The group I was in was tough, the other group was tough as well.
To be beating players like those that were in my group, you have to be on the top of your game and I wasn’t and they played well. The first week Neil Robertson played really well against me, Ding didn’t play brilliant but I didn’t turn up and then Bingham played fantastic.
PSB: And to finish off, a message for your fans…
MS: Just to thank everyone for supporting me, especially the people in China. I seem to have a lot of support there which is great and I think that has shown over the last few years.
My record in China has been good and it was good to go out there and win a tournament because for years I have been getting to semi-finals and then I got to the odd final, so I think that is probably down to them as well.
PSB: On the subject of that final in Shanghai in 2011, did you always believe that you could still win it at 9-7 behind against Mark Williams?
MS: Yeah I played quite a good first session, but the second session I really struggled towards the night and then Mark played well. At 9-7 I think he had a chance and missed a green off the spot to win 10-7, then I snookered him and there was a little bit of controversy with the red and pink.
But I always believe that I can win, no matter how many frames I am behind. Until that final ball is potted and I have lost, I never, ever believe that I have lost, so I think that is probably the good thing about me.
Even when my back is against the wall, I still always believe and that is why a lot of the time in some matches I have come back from 4-2 to win 5-4 or 9-7 to win 10-9.
Many thanks to Mark for his time and best of luck to him for the rest of the season. He will next be in action at the ET6 qualifiers later this month, before beginning his quest for a first UK Championship title at the Barbican Centre in December…