MARK SELBY knows he has to up his strike rate in finals to boost a surprisingly meagre haul of three ranking titles – but all that can be put to one side for a few weeks as he heads to Alexandra Palace to defend his Dafabet Masters crown in the invitation event for the top 15 and world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan only.

The 30-year-old has been there before recently, mounting a spirited defence of his UK Championship title in December including a magnificent 147 maximum break at York’s Barbican Centre before falling to world No1 Neil Robertson in the showpiece. 

And as he embarks on a campaign to win the Masters for a fourth time, Selby, who plays Mark Davis on Sunday, admits that he thrives on the single table set-up in north London from round one - a world away from the chaos of 128 players rattling through matches in the initial stage at the Barbican Centre five weeks previously.

“I am looking forward to it and practice in Leicester has been going okay, I certainly feel like the batteries have been recharged,” Selby told Inside Snooker.

“Every time you go to the Masters you get a buzz anyway, and being defending champion just raises that up a notch from competing as one of the top 16.

“Obviously I have recent experience of defending a title, at the UK last month. That didn’t go too badly and I will do the same in London, just not put too much pressure on myself.

“I won’t go in thinking I have to win it again, or imagine that everyone will be trying that much harder against me – just enjoy it and do my very best and see where it takes me. Having said that, it would of course be very nice to defend a title and win a fourth Masters.

“This could hardly be more different to York, there is no 128 players here – just the top 16 and you have to be at it right from the first match, the word go, or you’ll be heading home. 

“I really like any tournament with a one-table set-up, there are no distractions, nothing else going on around you. Every time you go out there it feels like a final with that set-up.

“For the rest of the season I would really like to get my tally of ranking titles up. It isn’t that I play badly in those events, far from it. I get to a lot of semi-finals and finals.

“I was looking at stats the other day, and I have been to pretty much the same number of ranking finals as Neil, it’s just that his strike rate in those finals is much higher. He has converted those chances at a much higher percentage.”

Despite a reputation for being one of the toughest match-players around with a granite-like mental fortitude Selby does occasionally have to fend off criticism about his style of play, with sceptics suggesting that despite his No2 ranking he lacks the natural talent of some rivals.

But the ‘Leicester Jester’ mounts as fierce a defence on that front as spectators and TV audiences can expect on the table.

He added: “I don’t take too much on board what other people say, I know everyone has their opinions. There may be people out there who think I am a top-three player, and those who don’t think I’m a top-ten player.

“But mentally I do think I am one of the toughest out there, and you often hear it said that 90 per cent of the game is in the head at the top level.

“You obviously need ability and talent, but you can have all of that in the world and if you are not strong enough mentally it is not going to happen. There are players out there with great techniques who don’t do as well, because their rivals are mentally tougher.

“It’s a huge part of the sport. Look at Peter Ebdon, and the stick he gets. He has won more than loads of the people who have a go at him, he is so strong mentally and credit to him. He might not be as gifted as Ronnie O’Sullivan but he was won a lot in the game.”

And Selby is hoping that an admin oversight does not cost him dear at Ally Pally. “I should have played at Crondon Park in the Championship League really to get match-sharp for the Masters, but it was my own fault,” he said.

“I had the email but left it so late to reply that by the time I had it was full up, as it’s pretty much first come first served with which groups you want. But practice has gone well at home.”

Photographs by Monique Limbos.