Hat-trick seeking Selby setting sights on claiming world crown at Crucible

Mark Selby and his wife Vikki Layton
Mark Selby and his wife Vikki Layton
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Mark Selby wants to win snooker’s ‘triple crown’ after his victory at the Betfair Masters.

The world No 1 beat Australian Neil Robertson 10-6 in a late finish on Sunday night to follow up his success in the UK Championship last month.

Now the 29-year-old heads to Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in April with an amazing hat-trick of snooker’s top three BBC events in sight.

He banked £175,000 at the Alexandra Palace to go with the £125,000 earned at York, and, having won a recent European Tour event in Munich, Selby is on a run of 14 consecutive victories in tournament play.

Now Selby wants to cap a terrific season with victory in Sheffield to confirm his standing as the best player in the world.

“I’ll go there trying my best to achieve it. There are a lot of great players out there,” said Selby.

“It’s going to be tough, but it’s still a long way away yet.”

While Selby does not have the natural flair of beaten opponent Robertson, his consistency is undeniable.

He only made only one century during the tournament, a 102 in the third frame of the final, but Selby’s dogged style saw him battle through early rounds.

He produced a stunning fightback from 5-1 down to beat Stuart Bingham 6-5 and, from 4-1 behind, he edged out Graeme Dott 6-5 in a prolonged semi-final.

Leading 5-3 after the first session of the final, Selby stretched his advantage with a break of 67 and went 8-3 ahead after a 32 clearance.

Defending Masters champion Robertson battled back, winning the next three frames, before Selby held his nerve to clinch the final two frames.

“I was really happy with the way I played,” said Selby, who saw a neck injury threaten his career last year. “I knew I had to play better and be more attacking. I seemed to do that in the first session.

“I was tired towards the end. I felt fresh in the afternoon but I felt it catching up with me at night. Thankfully, I gave myself a good enough lead to have something to mess about with.

“It’s just unbelievable at the moment. A few months ago, I had the neck injury and I didn’t know if I was going to be playing again.

“Now I’m sitting here having won the UK and the Masters. I’ve got a great team around me at the moment and they’ve pulled me through.”

The Leicester cueman, who also won the Masters in 2008 and 2010, has plans for his £300,000 winnings. “We’ve got planning permission to extend our house. I was planning on doing that anyway before the UK and this will help as I can use World Snooker’s money not mine.”

Selby is the first player to win two of snooker’s ‘big three’ BBC events back-to-back since Mark Williams in 2002-03.

As for 30-year-old Robertson, he missed the chance to become the fourth player – after Leeds’s Paul Hunter, Cliff Thorburn and Stephen Hendry – to successfully defend his Masters title.

“If I had played as well as I did in my first three matches I think I could have won convincingly,” said Robertson, after picking up an £85,000 loser’s cheque.

“In the first few frames, I tried not to watch Mark play because he can keep you away from the table for a long time and I wanted to keep my own rhythm.

“It was a mistake because my body language was not the best, then when I came to the table I wasn’t ready for it.”

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn believes the success of the Masters shows the game can survive without Ronnie O’Sullivan but he still hopes to welcome the world champion back at the Crucible later this year.

O’Sullivan was a spectator at Alexandra Palace on semi-final day, sparking rumours he will take his place in Sheffield in April.

Hearn said: “If I know Ronnie, I think the reason he came on Saturday night is because he’s sitting at home watching it on telly saying ‘I used to be good at that game’.

“He just turned up; he should’ve brought his cue.

“He still has a choice of entering the World Championships. The closing date is the end of February; he’s got to make a decision before then.

“If he decides to he’s welcome, with open arms, because he adds so much. And if he doesn’t, I just want to remind him that he wasn’t in the Masters, we sold more tickets and we got bigger TV ratings.

“The sport does not rely on one person, even if that person can add another dimension to it, which we would welcome.

“The choice is entirely his. I’m certainly not going to put any pressure on.”

Hearn, who in December, 2009 was appointed chairman of the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA), has made a number of changes to rejuvenate the game since taking up his current role with the governing body’s commercial arm in June, 2010.

The innovation will continue next season, when the top 16 players will compete from round one in the majority of tournaments. The World Championship, Australian Open and Shanghai Masters are the exceptions.

“What I can compare it to is Usain Bolt, who is the No 1 sprinter in the world but does not start halfway down the track,” said Hearn.

“We’re not going to allow protectionism.

“Eight of the 11 events next year will be a 128 draw. The three events that are not will be the only events where the prize money doesn’t change, until they come into the family.”

Legends set to battle it out in Sheffield

Qualifying for this year’s World Championships, and a chance to play at the famous Crucible theatre, will be held in Sheffield.

The city’s English Institute Of Sport will see snooker legends such as Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Ken Doherty attempt to battle their way through the qualifiers to reach the televised stages.

“We are delighted to bring the World Championship qualifiers back to the EIS in Sheffield,” said a spokesman for World Snooker. “In recent years it has proved an excellent venue and very popular with fans.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to see snooker legends like Davis, White and Doherty play live, as well as the stars of tomorrow like Luca Brecel and Jamie Jones.

“The layout of the venue means that spectators can watch several matches at once. And with tickets starting at just £5, it really is phenomenal value for people wanting to see top-level sport.

“There will be so much at stake with players aiming to earn a place at the Crucible for the final stages of our most prestigious event.”

The qualifiers run from April 4-14, and the 16 players to make it through will go on to the finals from April 20 to May 6.

Tickets are available for Saturday, April 6 to Sunday April 14 (no play on April 12 due to tables being re-covered) in the Badminton Hall at the EIS.

For more details contact 0114 256 5567 or visit www.arenaticketshop.co.uk