Saturday Interview: Family man Selby back and hungry for more

Twelve months ago, Mark Selby was on top of the world after being crowned Crucible champion.

Mark Selby celebrates after winning the final of the Dafabet World Snooker Championships.

Since cueing off as a raw 16-year-old in the snooker halls of Leicester, Selby had finally reached the pinnacle of his sport after 15 years of hard graft.

His 18-14 victory over five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in Sheffield saw Selby join an elite group of players to win snooker’s ‘Triple Crown’ of World, UK and Masters titles.

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Today, he returns to the scene of his greatest sporting moment, although he freely admits that Crucible triumph was surpassed a few months later.

Mark Selby celebrates after winning the final of the Dafabet World Snooker Championships at The Crucible, Sheffield.

For Selby’s wife Vikki Layton, herself an international pool player, gave birth to their first child, Sofia Maria on November 11.

Just like every new parent, the arrival of a child suddenly brought clarity Selby’s perspectives.

“Being a dad has been great,” Selby told The Yorkshire Post. “It’s the first time I have experienced it. Speaking to everyone else who have been fathers in the past, they said there’s nothing like it, and there definitely isn’t.

“Being there at the birth of my daughter was the perfect feeling and nothing will top that.”

Selby said becoming a dad surpassed being crowned world champion “by a long way”.

“Your personal relationships, and your health, are more important than snooker alone.

“Snooker, at the end of the day, is just a game to do well in. But if you haven’t got your health, you can’t be out there playing anyway.”

Selby has tried to juggle snooker’s global Tour with spending time with his family.

But being the current world champion and a new father has meant the 31-year-old is constantly in demand.

“We don’t get much time at home to just switch off,” he admitted. “Unless, that is, you can start picking and choosing your tournaments which you play in. This year I have managed to do that, not play in as many tournaments as I did in previous years.

“It was nice to try and spend a little bit of time at home. If you try and play in every tournament, your time at home is very limited.”

On the table, it has been a mixed 12 months for the three-time Masters champion.

He has suffered early exits in several tournaments, like the UK Championship and Masters, while 19-year-old Leeds rookie Oliver Lines caused a shock by ousting Selby in the qualifiers for the International Championship.

Selby finally found some form to reach the final of the German Masters, where he edged out good friend Shaun Murphy – the former Rotherham potter who tasted Crucible success in 2005 – in a thrilling final, 9-7.

“It was a relief winning in Germany, it got the monkey off my back by winning my first tournament as world champion,” he admitted.

“With the expectation I was placing on myself, I was thinking ‘am I putting too much pressure on myself?’

“Was that why I was under-performing? Or was I trying too hard?

“I think it was a little bit of both. To come out the other side and win in Germany was a great feeling, especially beating Shaun Murphy, who is probably one of the form players this year.

“Shaun will definitely be in the running in Sheffield to become a world champion for a second time, he’s won three or four tournaments this season and is the form player.

“It’s not been too bad a year. I started off a bit ropey, probably did feel the pressure of being world champion a little bit.

“But then I managed to win the German Masters, which gave me some confidence back again. Overall, it’s not been drastic, but not fantastic either.

“I did feel the pressure of being world champion at the start of the season. To be fair, even when I wasn’t world champion I put a lot of pressure on myself anyway, going into tournaments.

“I know that if I do play to my capabilities, then I know what I am capable of. I do put a lot of pressure on myself in that way, anyway.

“Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t turn it around and not be world champion. Winning at the Crucible was the final piece of the puzzle, having won the Masters and UK Championship previously.

“I have gained a lot of confidence from it, but then put added pressure on myself, which I probably didn’t need to.

“A lot of players said to me ‘you have won everything in the game now, as far as the big majors, go out and enjoy it’. But that’s easier said than done.

“Being a professional I am so competitive and want to win every game.”

His success in Germany was followed by another title overseas, when he beat fellow Englishman Gary Wilson 10-2 to win the China Open earlier this month.

“I played well for the majority of the match,” said Selby, after his Beijing success.

“To be 8-1 up at the end of the first session probably wasn’t a fair reflection on how the match had gone, as a few frames could have gone either way but I managed to pinch them.

“I got home, had a few days off and then got back on the practice table to prepare for the Crucible.”

Being the world champion also means he has the proverbial “target on his back”, as players on the other side of the table look to cause an upset.

“I seem to have found that this year,” said Selby. “I am playing players who are trying, not trying harder because they try to win anyway, but they are performing at a higher level against me.

“Whether that’s because they see me as a bigger scalp being world champion or something, I don’t know.”

Aged 31, Selby has the potential to play at the top level for another decade.

In a sport where O’Sullivan – who will be 40 in December – is still the man to beat, and players like John Higgins, 39, are competing at the highest level, age is no longer the barrier it once was.

“Look at John Higgins and O’Sullivan, they are in their late 30s, and are still competing at the top of their game,” said Selby.

“They are there to look up to. I have probably got another 10 years left.

“I just want to win more titles. Having won the world title for the first time, that would be nice to win that again.

“I have won the Masters three times, but it would be great to win that again.

“If you look at the likes of Stephen Hendry and O’Sullivan, they just wanted to keep winning, and that is my outlook on the game, too.

“I have achieved everything I wanted to achieve. If I stopped playing tomorrow, I would be happy.

“But while I am still playing and competing I want to win more.”