Mark Selby, snooker’s fiercest competitor, beat Stuart Bingham 17-15 in the Betfred World Championship semi-finals, continuing his bid for a fourth Crucible crown.
Selby will face Shaun Murphy over four sessions on Sunday and Monday, and first to 18 frames will have their name engraved on the iconic trophy. Selby’s name is already there, next to the years 2014, 2016 and 2017. Another victory would lift him higher in the pantheon of all-time greats; only Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis and John Higgins have won it more than three times at the Crucible.
The 37-year-old Leicester cueman will be playing in his fifth Sheffield final, having lost his first to Higgins back in 2007. The omens favour Selby – he beat Murphy 17-16 in their semi-final clash at the Crucible that year, and also came out on top 10-6 when they met in the 2012 UK Championship final, and 9-7 in the 2015 German Masters final. The pair have been friends since their junior days but neither will budge an inch over the next two days of combat on the baize.
World number four Selby will be competing in his 30th ranking final and aiming for his 20th title. A loss of form and confidence in 2019 is well behind him – with the help of coach Chris Henry he has rebuilt his status as a feared opponent. The disappointment of a 17-16 defeat against Ronnie O’Sullivan at the same stage in Sheffield last year was softened when he won the European Masters and Scottish Open earlier this season.
With a watertight all-round game and unrivalled powers of concentration, Selby will start favourite in a final in which his opponent may come at him with all guns blazing. Betfred make Selby 1/2, with Murphy 13/8.
Bingham had the initiative when he won five frames in a row to lead 12-9, but couldn’t press home the advantage and carry on his bid to become the only qualifier to win the title other than Terry Griffiths in 1979 and Murphy in 2005. He misses out on the chance to compete for a second Crucible crown, having won it in 2015, but at least has the consolation of a cheque for £100,000 which restores his position among the world’s top 16.
Selby led 16-15 when the match was halted at the end of the afternoon session. They returned three hours later and Selby made a break of 41, then Bingham had a chance to clear but ran out of position in potting the last red. Selby took the upper hand in a tactical battle on the colours when he trapped his opponent in a tough snooker on the green. Bingham missed it five times, and on the last occasion left a chance. Selby slotted the green into a baulk corner, and cleared to the pink to seal victory.
“It feels incredible to get to another world final,” said Selby. “It was such a tough game, Stuart is a great player. It’s strange to think he came here as a qualifier because when he’s like that he is definitely a top eight player. I was just hanging on to his coat tails all the way through and then managed to turn it around at the end.
“At 16-15 I was quite calm because if someone had offered me that at 13-11 down I would have taken it. I felt good in my game. Stuart made an unbelievable clearance to go 16-15. Then in the last frame I had a bit of run to get over the line.
“All the hours I put in on the practice table, all the sacrifices being away from home and the family – getting to a world final makes it all worthwhile. I need to be on top of my game because Shaun is playing as well as he has for a long time. We grew up together, there is only one year between us. We used to play together at Willie Thorne’s club when I was 14 and he was 15. We are still battling now.”
Bingham felt that Selby had deliberately slowed down the flow of the game at certain points in the tie. He said: “One shot took three minutes, then he just rolled into the balls. It’s close to gamesmanship. You have to question that. Does he do it on purpose or what? I wanted a free flowing game. In some frames a ball went over the pocket and we weren’t going to give each other a chance. It’s tough to lose a close game like that. Fair play to Mark, he came out firing today and deserved his win. I had one of those days.”