Mark Selby battled to a 17-15 victory over Marco Fu to set up a Betfred World Championship final clash with Ding Junhui.
World number one Selby was pushed all the way by Hong Kong’s Fu before he won the last two frames of a thrilling semi-final in Sheffield. Leicester’s 32-year-old Selby will battle China’s Ding Junhui over 35 frames on Sunday and Monday for the trophy and £330,000 top prize.
Having won the title in 2014 when he beat Ronnie O’Sullivan 18-14 in the final, Selby now has then chance to become only the sixth player, after Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, John Higgins and O’Sullivan, to capture snooker’s biggest crown more than once at the Crucible. This will be Selby’s third world final, having lost to Higgins in 2007, and he’s aiming for his sixth Triple Crown title having won the Masters three times and the UK Championship once.
Selby has certainly not been at his best during the Championship so far, producing only brief spells of fluent break-building, but his toughness, determination and impregnable safety game have made him hard to beat. Looking ahead to the final, Neil Robertson predicted on Twitter: ‘Mark will grind Ding into the absolute dirt.’
If Selby wins the final he’ll retain the world number one ranking, while if he loses Stuart Bingham will take over as top dog.
Fu, the world number 14, missed out on a first world final, losing a close match just as he did on his only previous appearance in the last four when he went down 17-16 to Peter Ebdon.
In an exciting final session tonight, the two players traded blows along the home stretch. Selby won the first frame of the night to lead 13-12 then Fu replied with a break of 98.
Selby’s 63 gave him the next but Fu hit back again with 100 for 14-14. Selby made a century of his own, 101, the 81st ton of the tournament, to win frame 29, but once again Fu drew level with runs of 50 and 73 in the 30th. Selby built a 47-3 lead in the next frame, and he added the points he needed to secure the frame after Fu missed two attempts at long reds.
The 32nd frame lasted 66 minutes and came down to the colours. Selby laid a clever snooker on the brown, which Fu missed three times to leave him 21 points behind. Selby, relentless, laid another snooker, and when Fu hit the blue he needed a snooker himself. Selby went on to pot the brown to clinch the result.
“It was a strange match really, I can’t believe I’m sitting here the winner,” admitted Selby. “For three sessions there I was really poor, I was more or less hanging on. Marco seemed to be doing all the scoring. He was more relaxed than me, as if he was just walking to the shops to get a loaf of bread, and there’s me like a cat on a hot tin roof.
“When I did make a big break in one frame I thought I could kick on, then I’d miss something silly in the next frame or just play a poor positional shot. But I’m happy to be through, the last session was probably the best I played all match, and I felt a lot more relaxed and calm.
“Ding has played great this week and thoroughly deserves to be in the final. I need to play better than I did today, I just need to go out there and enjoy it. If I go out there and relax and play my own game, rather than playing like it’s life or death, I’ve got a better chance.
“It would be fantastic if I did win it again, but just to get to the final again is a great achievement. In my last two finals here I have got off to a slow start but I can’t afford to do that this time. I feel tired but I’m sure I’ll get a good night’s sleep and come back fresh tomorrow.”
Fu said: “Mark outplayed me in most of the scrappy frames, when it comes down to the colours he is the best player in the world. I didn’t play too badly, but Mark was just too strong, he was snookering me all over the place, he put me in all sorts of trouble.
“I felt pretty comfortable when I got among the balls, I think Mark just dictated the pace towards the end. The balls were messy and it suited Mark very well. It has been a great tournament, I’ve played really well overall, I can take a lot of positives.
“I would probably make Ding slight favourite for the final, but Mark is a great safety player, so he can use that to contain Ding’s scoring.”
Fu also responded to a question about accidentally touching a red with a finger while bridging over balls in the 27th frame. He said: “I didn’t have a clue that happened. My coach told me the commentators said I’d touched a red with my finger, but I didn’t feel it. I haven’t got a clue what shot it was and I honestly couldn’t feel it.”