Few sports have the ability to deliver such vastly different world champions year-to-year than snooker. For every great entertainer – a Ronnie O’Sullivan, a Judd Trump – there is a relentless, meticulous machine of the baize. Those adjectives alone perhaps make Mark Selby less popular than his colleagues, but you cannot deny the greatness the four-time world champion possesses.
Selby embraces those adjectives. It is his relentlessness, his patience and his studiousness on the table which make him the champion he is. And it is all those characteristics which further solidified his place alongside the sport’s all-time great players here, on a feel-good occasion few snooker fans will forget in a hurry.
The Crucible was handed the accolade of being the first sporting event in over a year to have a capacity crowd. The spectacle delivered, as did the final itself. But in the end, despite Shaun Murphy’s magnificent long-range potting, his never-say-die spirit and unlikely role as Crucible superhero, it was Selby who claimed a fourth world championship. Only three men – Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and O’Sullivan – have won more Crucible titles.
The final, a marathon best-of-35, is all about capitalising on your opponent’s mistakes at the right moment. Selby did that on numerous occasions, underlined by the fact that Murphy only won consecutive frames twice. Every time he generated up a hint of momentum, Selby snuffed it out emphatically.
Few moments summed that up better than the frame which took Selby to within one of the title. Murphy had dug in to trail by three at the mid-session interval, with Selby leading 16-13. Frame 30 began with a gruelling 15-minute safety battle, which Selby won, just as you always felt he would, before a decisive 120 clearance.
Murphy may well look back at frames earlier in the final, several half-century breaks that weren’t further converted which Selby punished, as decisive. But really, when a final becomes a matchplay masterclass, there is only ever likely to be one winner. Murphy certainly entertained the crowd, but Selby cares little about entertaining. He cares about winning, and nothing else.
The two men could not have handled the occasion more differently. Murphy seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd at every turn, fist-pumping every time he clinched a frame and attempting to raise the noise inside the auditorium when he emerged for the final session. But that was never likely to throw the stony-faced Selby off his game.
Unperturbed, Selby ruthlessly went about his business all evening on Monday. Breaks of 70, 108 and that magnificent 120 ensured he always held a strong lead, while also taking him to within one of the title. Murphy would rally with back-to-back centuries of his own to keep the final alive, but you always felt that one mistake would be fatal.
Just as a comeback started to seem plausible, a red along the cushion rattled the jaws of the pocket as Murphy looked set to make it 17-16. The alternative was a safety, but Murphy, having played aggressively all night, was never likely to go out that way. Selby would not make the same mistake. He cleared up, and finally let the mask slip, roaring to the crowd for the first time.
Judging by the reaction Murphy received inside the Crucible all evening, Selby was perhaps not the people’s champion here. But he is undoubtedly one of snooker’s all-time great players, a point emphasised when he lifted the sport’s most famous prize for a fourth time. Snooker royalty? Mark Selby is now firmly part of that discussion.