MARK SELBY begins the defence of his Databet Masters title this afternoon attempting to shrug off the disappointment of his UK Championship final defeat to Neil Robertson last month.
Renowned for comebacks, Selby led 5-1 but was beaten 10-7, a setback for a player who certainly divides opinion.
As we reported yesterday on Inside Snooker, Judd Trump believes Selby has one of the best temperaments in the sport, even if he doesn’t think his game is as strong as some of snooker’s other big hitters.
“Considering he doesn’t actually play to a great standard to get to so many finals and semis is very impressive. For me he has the best head in snooker. He misses a lot of easy balls but can still come back and clear up the table the next shot,” Trump said.
“When that happens to me or Ronnie quite often we’re gone for that frame because we are so disgusted with ourselves. Mark just forgets it. He’s a good player but probably not in the top five in the world. But with his head, it makes him world no.1 or no.2. He is doing very well.”
Trump’s right – Selby is doing very well. You don’t get into the top five through opinions but results.
Selby should take any sleight against him as a compliment. It means he has got under his opponent’s skin before a ball has been struck.
Selby’s response to Trump’s comments was clear: “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 often the case with natural, instinctive players that they can’t understand why everyone doesn’t play the way they do. They see the shots immediately and don’t feel the need for procrastination.
But snooker isn’t just about showboating. The entertainers keep the interest levels up but a player’s career is defined by one thing above all else: how many trophies have you won?
In Selby’s case, so far anyway, he hasn’t won as many as a number of his main rivals, particularly Neil Robertson and Ding Junhui.
But the Masters is an event where he thrives, with three titles and a runners-up spot to his name.
One of his best attributes – which Trump alluded to – is his ability to graft out victories playing his B, C or even D game. Mark Williams was the same in his pomp, often saving his best form for the business end of tournaments.
Selby’s never-say-die attitude was in evidence at Alexandra Palace last year when he recovered from 5-1 down in the first round to beat Stuart Bingham 6-5.
But Selby can also play superbly. The centuries in a season record Trump set last year – 61 – had previously been Selby’s with 55.
Players can too often get pigeon-holed as being one thing or another: Selby is dismissed as a grinder, Trump as a bash-‘em-up merchant.
Neither is true. Just as Selby is a heavy scorer, so Trump has a strong safety game and highly attuned snooker brain. But everyone is different and approaches playing in different ways.
One thing is for sure: the Masters has been a happy hunting ground for Mark Selby. Whatever your view of how he plays, you write him off in this tournament at your peril.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.