Sheffield: Mark Selby secured a first world title with a thrilling and dramatic comeback victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Monday.
An emotional Selby, often dubbed the “Jester from Leicester”, wore a smile as wide as the famous arena itself after an 18-14 Dafabet World Championship triumph that took him back to No. 1 in the world rankings.
And he was also quick in his moment of triumph, after winning 13 of the last 17 frames, to dedicate the success to his late father, David, who died when his son was 16 and whose dying wish was that he would become world champion.
Selby, 30, trailed O’Sullivan, the red-hot favourite, 10-5 at one point on Sunday night, but showed true grit under the most intense pressure. And he celebrated the greatest moment of his career with the famous trophy and a record £300,000 first-prize cheque.
“It’s amazing,” Selby said. “There’s no better way of winning the title than beating Ronnie in the final.
“My father passed away when I was 16 from cancer and I said I’d always want to win the World Championship for him. So that’s for him, and I have done it. His last words were, ‘I want you to become the champion’.
“It can’t get any better this, I’ve just got to thank all my family for everything. They’ve been behind me when things have been tough. I owe them a lot.
“I was mentally very tired on Sunday after my semi-final but being just 10-7 down I felt like I was winning — and I knew I had a chance. That came from winning other finals against Ronnie.”
O’Sullivan, the five-time and defending champion, arrived having never lost a world final, and was trying to get level with Steve Davis and Ray Reardon on six titles.
Not many had fancied Selby’s chances after a season that saw him lose three finals at the UK Championship, Masters and World Open.
His comprehensive 10-4 loss to O’Sullivan in January’s Masters showpiece ensured that few gave him a prayer against the man considered the most naturally gifted player of all time. But Selby has got under O’Sullivan’s skin before with a style of play that is known to irritate the winner of 26 ranking titles.
“Mark is a modern-day Cliff Thorburn,” O’Sullivan said. “That was tough, he had me in all sorts of trouble for two days. He was too strong and I went numb. He’s a worthy champion. He out-fought and out-battled me. I’ve got no complaints. Maybe four or five years ago I would have thrown the towel in, but I’m proud of the way I stuck in there.”
Twice before Selby had produced comeback wins to beat O’Sullivan in leading finals.
He hit back from 8-5 down to win the Welsh Open 9-8 in 2008 and two years later repeated the trick on O’Sullivan’s home patch at the Masters from 9-6 down to win 10-9.
With the future of the Crucible in doubt with no deal in place beyond next year, although negotiations are ongoing, the tiny 980-seat capacity venue was once again at its magnificent best yesterday.
Packed to the rafters and with the usual sprinkling of celebrities in evidence, notably Stephen Fry, the author and television presenter, and Nicko McBrain, drummer of rock band Iron Maiden, the players were greeted like film stars as they walked down the steps for the final session.
Selby had played in one previous world final, losing out to John Higgins 18-13 shortly before 1am. And O’Sullivan’s lead had been 10-5 late on Sunday night, but pinching those last two frames of the day seemed to kick-start a sluggish Selby.
He turned the match on its head during last night’s tense finale, and emerged a worthy winner. There was credit, too, for O’Sullivan, who was generous in defeat to an opponent whose style irritates him beyond belief. One for the roundheads over the cavaliers — but a notable personal triumph for Selby.