MARK SELBY returns home for his world title defence as China Open champion, which seemed unlikely at the start of the week after he developed a neck injury.

Thankfully, this went away and after a slow start, Selby’s form improved. In the semi-finals and final he produced top level snooker and heads back to Leicester with £87,000 – having made the tournament’s highest break of 145 – and with his sixth world ranking trophy.

Gary Wilson seemed overawed early on in the final, which is entirely understandable on the biggest day of his career. Selby took control and a comeback never seemed likely to materialise.

Selby’s happy-go-lucky approach to life is an advantage, not just in terms of general happiness but also in the heat of battle. He manages to balance two distinct emotions: the utter will to win, as if this is the most important thing in the world, and the feeling that it’s all a bit of fun.

Control of emotions in a sport such as snooker is a huge factor when you take as a given that all professionals are capable of playing well when there is no pressure. The test therefore comes under pressure, and this is where Selby thrives.

In the ten years since the China Open returned to the circuit and was placed as last ranking event before the World Championship, nobody has gone on to also triumph at the Crucible. Of course no first time world champion has made a successful title defence, so Selby has two hoodoos he could break if he does last the course again in Sheffield.

His season has not been stellar, neither has it been disastrous. He’s made some early exits and done well in other events. Ranking tournaments are hard to win and Selby is the only player to have won more than one during the campaign, following up in Beijing his Berlin victory at the German Masters.

His game is in good shape, then, for the Crucible but of course the pressure there is more intense, more all-encompassing than anywhere else. That first Saturday, and how he copes on day one, will tell us far more about Selby’s world title chances than what happened today.

As for Wilson, he comes home with £35,000 and bags of confidence but will be disappointed by his performance in the final, particularly after playing so well to beat Ding Junhui in the semi-finals.

He rises to 37th in the world rankings and returns home for the Betfred World Championship qualifiers, which start on Wednesday. The first round lasts for four days so he could play as late as Saturday.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.