MARK Selby suffered a worrying recurrence of neck problems at the China Open ahead of his Betfred World Championship title defence later this month.

The Leicester Jester heads to the Crucible in less than three weeks’ time 12 months after famously beating Ronnie O’Sullivan to lift the trophy for the first time.

But world No1 Selby, back in action early on Wednesday against Elliott Slessor in Beijing in the last 32, had to play through the pain barrier in his first-round 5-3 win over Mark Joyce.

Selby, 31, is acutely conscious that he had to pull out of the China Open three years ago in acute pain with a bulging disc that subsequently hampered him badly in Sheffield where he lost in the first round to Barry Hawkins.

And following an emergency call to his physiotherapist for some exercises to do in his hotel room in China Selby admitted he will be extra careful between now and April 18.

While the initial symptoms were not as marked and severe as the previous time, which Selby genuinely feared might restrict his career, there was nevertheless real concern with more than one eye on the blue-riband event.

Selby said: “It is a worry. Hopefully it isn’t as bad as it was before and is just a muscle strain, but I was getting some pain before the match and I called my physio.

“It is in the same position, but she gave me some exercises to do and that helped. When it happened before I could hardly get down to play the shots, it was like disc bulge.

“Whatever happens here I will go back to the physio and get some treatment when I get home. I jolted it slipping on a floor as well, which didn’t help.

“I don’t think it ever goes away fully, and I probably should have kept on top of it and done the exercises more than I have.

“I just woke up yesterday morning with it, and I was in pain playing my match against Mark Joyce.”

Photograph by Monique Limbos