Mark Selby won his third Betfred World Championship crown since 2014 by beating John Higgins 18-15 in the final, becoming only the fourth player to successfully defend the title at the Crucible.
Selby rubber-stamped his reputation as the best player of the current era as he came from 10-4 down to win 14 of the last 19 frames against four-time champion Higgins.
Having lifted the trophy in 2014 and 2016, Leicester’s 33-year-old Selby follows Steve Davis (1983-4 and 1987-9), Stephen Hendry (1992-96) and Ronnie O’Sullivan (2012-13) as the only players to win back to back titles in the Crucible era, which began 1977.
Scotland’s Higgins, at 41 the oldest world finalist in 35 years, dominated the early exchanges on Sunday and at 10-4 looked to be cruising to a fifth world crown, which would have equalled O’Sullivan’s tally. But, worn out by the effort of reaching the final at snooker’s toughest endurance test, Higgins faded through the key part of the battle. He made an impressive late rally but in the end was no match for his unflappable and determined opponent.
The same two players met in 2007 when Higgins won 18-13, but in the decade since, Selby has matured immeasurably. Ice cool under pressure, tough as nails and superb in every department of the game, he is the successor to Davis and Higgins himself as the best all-round player in the sport. He has held the world number one position for 27 months – with his lead at the top of the rankings only increasing.
With this win, Selby…
- Becomes the fifth player to win three world titles at the Crucible, after Hendry (7), Davis (6), O’Sullivan (5) and Higgins (4)
- Banks the biggest prize in snooker history, £375,000
- Smashes Hendry’s long-standing record of £740,000 for the most prize money earned in a single season. Selby has won £932,000 in 2016/17
- Equals the record of five ranking events won in a single season, set by Hendry and Ding Junhui
- Wins his 12th career ranking title, bringing him equal sixth on the all-time list alongside Neil Robertson and Ding
- Captures his eighth Triple Crown title having won three Masters and two UK Championships
- Becomes the sixth player to win the World and UK titles in the same season after Davis, Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins and Mark Williams
Leading 13-11 after the third session, Selby won the opening frame tonight with breaks of 35 and 37 to extend his lead. He might have taken the next as well from 45 points behind, but after making 14 went for a risky long pot on the final red to a baulk corner and missed his target, allowing Higgins to claw one back.
Selby ignored that set back and made a break of 71 to win frame 27, and he dominated the next as well, sealing it with a run of 70 to make it 16-12 at the interval. Higgins hit back with an 88 clearance to pull one back,and he gathered momentum with a brilliant 111 to make it 16-14.
Frame 31 came down to a safety battle on the last red, and Higgins, leading 50-47, got the better of the exchange and made a fine clearance which included an excellent pot on the final brown.
Embracing the pressure, Selby responded with a marvellous 131 to go two up with three to play at 17-15. There were no signs of nerves with Selby on the verge of the finish line. He compiled 71, a break of steel inside the heat of Sheffield’s Crucible, to clinch the title.
Selby remarked: “It’s a fantastic feeling. I was confident coming here because of the season I’d had. I was just taking one frame at a time. When I was 10-4 down yesterday I thought there’s no way in the world I was going to come back from that, I was trying to make it respectable. At one stage I was thinking I could lose with a session to spare.
“To get out 10-7, it felt like I was leading. I don’t know how I managed to win those three frames, because before that I was shattered. My game was all over the place, missing ball after ball, making it easy for John. The harder I was trying the worse it got. I managed to nick those three frames and that gave me confidence. I think John went to bed that night thinking he’d let one go.
He added: “It is such a hard tournament to win physically and mentally. I think it’s one of the toughest sports in the world.There’s only four players that have ever defended it and you look at the greats who have played the game.
“I respect John as much as anyone in the game, he’s a great guy, a fantastic player, one of the all-time greats. He’s played as good as anyone this season.”
Afterwards Higgins was quick to pay tribute to Selby and admitted he is one of the finest players he’s faced.
“I think Mark will add to that, whether it’s one, two, three or four. He looks as though he could be the challenger to Stephen Hendry’s seven world titles. He’s just granite and really tough to play against, so I take my hat off to him,” said the four-time winner. “It’s up to the likes of Robertson, Trump and Ding to challenge him. They’ll be watching that tonight and it will make them desperate to get back on the practice table.
“He was really strong today. He plays such a tough game, you’re off the table for so long, then when you get back to the table you’re out of your rhythm. He just keeps on punishing you and every credit to him, he’s a great champion.
“I think I acquitted myself well this tournament. I enjoyed the way I played and how I kept myself under control. Even at the end I felt under control, a couple of little positional shots went awry and he punished me. I’m delighted to have got to the final, just a pity I couldn’t go one better, but I’m proud of myself.”