Cool-Hand Luca Pulls Off Record Comeback
Luca Brecel became the first player to win a match at the Crucible from nine frames behind as he recovered a 14-5 deficit to beat Si Jiahui 17-15 and reach the final of the Cazoo World Championship.
The previous record comeback had stood for 38 years, since the 1985 final when Dennis Taylor lost the first eight frames but eventually beat Steve Davis 18-17. This time, Si was just three frames from the winning line when his opponent began his epic revival. Brecel won 11 in a row to go 16-14 ahead, and eventually sealed the result at the end of a dramatic 32nd frame.
At the age of just 20, China’s Si came so close to becoming the youngest ever Crucible finalist, and he would also have been the first debutant to reach the final since Terry Griffiths in 1979. The most important moment of the match came at the end of the third session, late on Friday night, when he missed a straight-forward green on the brink of a 15-9 overnight lead. Instead it was 14-10, and Brecel was able to continue his momentum into the concluding session and complete a remarkable turnaround.
The 28-year-old from Belgium had never won a match at the Crucible before this tournament, losing his first five matches at the venue, but is now showing his talent, flair and charisma to a vast global audience. The first player from mainland Europe to go this deep in Sheffield, he will face Mark Selby or Mark Allen over 35 frames on Sunday and Monday. It will be Brecel’s seventh ranking final and he has won three of the previous six, at the 2017 China Championship, 2021 Scottish Open and 2022 Championship League.
Brecel, who has knocked out Ricky Walden, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Si, is now sure to jump into the top four from his current ranking of tenth, and could go as high as second if he wins the title. He is aiming to become only the fourth non-British winner of snooker’s most famous trophy, after Canada’s Cliff Thorburn, Ireland’s Ken Doherty and Australia’s Neil Robertson.
Brecel took the opening frame today with a break of 80 to leave the score at 14-11. In frame 26, Brecel led 40-26 when he converted an excellent pot on the third-last red to a centre pocket, and he added the points he needed to narrow the gap to just two. A rapid break of 81 from Brecel made it eight in a row as he closed to 14-13. Frame 28 lasted 36 minutes and came down to the colours. Si trailed 53-40 when he played a weak safety on the blue, and Brecel potted it from distance to square the match for the first time since 1-1.
Brecel took control of the 29th frame with a run of 48, then took advantage of a safety error from his opponent to add 31 and take the lead. Si had two scoring chances early in frame 30 but mustered only 10 points, first missing a tricky black, and then a blue off its spot. From the second error, Brecel made a break of 73 to go 16-14 ahead. Si finally ended a losing streak of 11 consecutive frames with a break of 84.
In frame 32, Brecel looked set for victory until he missed a red to a corner pocket on 43. Si replied with 40 before running out of position on the last red, leading to a brief tactical tussle, resolved when Brecel clipped a thin cut into a top corner, and cleared to the blue before bowing his head in elation and relief.
“It was incredible. At 14-5 down I was thinking I could lose with a session to spare,” said Brecel. “To win the last five frames last night was big, especially the last frame when he missed the green which could have made it 15-9. That was a sign for me to keep believing. He wasn’t missing in the first two sessions. Today I was at my best and I got a bit of luck. I was really feeling pressure at 16-15 but I played a good frame.
“I didn’t practise for this tournament because I wanted to come here mentally fresh with no expectations. I could have lost to Ricky Walden in the first round, but I played so well at the end of that game and I have got stronger since then. It has been an incredible journey.
“This is the first time I have had so much attention from people in Belgium. It feels like the whole of the country is texting me! It’s all over the newspapers. I have never seen anything like it.
“I will enjoy the final because I shouldn’t be there. It’s a bonus, there is no pressure on me, unless it’s close at the end. I will play my game and go for my shots. It will be amazing.”
Si, who will jump from 80th to 36th in the rankings, said: “I’m disappointed but my opponent played near perfect snooker for the last two sessions, and my safety wasn’t as good. I have realised I have some flaws in my game and I need to improve. I will go into next season confident and believing I can beat any player.”