Mark Selby reached his first final for 19 months, and ended a long series of defeats against Neil Robertson, with a 6-4 success in the semi-finals of the BetVictor English Open.
Another outstanding match in Brentwood featured three centuries and seven more breaks over 50, and it was Leicester’s Selby who came out on top to set up a final clash with Luca Brecel or Mark Allen on Sunday. First to nine frames will collect the Steve Davis Trophy and a top prize of £80,000.
Robertson had won seven consecutive meetings between these two former World Champions, a sequence stretching back two years. But Selby has now ended that hoodoo, and can look forward to his first final since he won his fourth Crucible crown in May 2021. The 39-year-old has confronted mental health challenges over the past year and had to contend with patchy form, but today showed his best qualities on the baize.
In the opening frame, Robertson made a break of 56 before running out of position. After a safety tussle, Selby converted an excellent long red to a baulk corner and cleared with 54. Robertson hit back with runs of 78, 78 and 141 to lad 3-1.
After the interval, world number three Selby gained momentum, taking three frames in a row with top breaks of 51 and 136, before Robertson bounced back with a 66 for 4-4. In frame nine, Robertson led 29-0 when he lost position in splitting the pack. A tactical exchange was resolved when Selby thumped in a fantastic do-or-die long red, setting him up for a break of 104 to regain the lead. And another marvellous long red from Selby at the start of the tenth initiated a match-winning 85.
“The last few times Neil has beaten me I have played ok, I just haven’t had enough chances to win the match. Today I took virtually every chance from 3-1 down,” said Selby, who has won 20 of his previous 30 ranking finals. “He is the best player in the world at the moment, the standard he is playing is phenomenal, so to beat him you have to be at the top of your game.
“From 3-1 to 3-3, Neil missed a couple, which is probably the first time he has missed a ball against me since the Romans were building the roads. Then from 4-4 I played well in the last two. I have been working hard and playing well in practice. That means nothing unless you are taking it out there to the match table. I have done that this season in patches and got to a few quarter and semi-finals.
“Whoever I play tomorrow, I’ll be out there fighting. Mark Allen has been the player of the season, Luca is a great talent and it’s good to see him in the later stages.
“The biggest challenge I have ever faced has been since January this year, probably for the rest of my life. It’s never going to go away, I need to stay on top of it. Snooker is only a game, as long as you have your health that’s the most important thing. I never realised that before, I would get really down on myself. Now I am getting better.”
Robertson, who has now lost three consecutive semi-finals in this season’s BetVictor Home Nations events, said: “I made a really good break to go 4-4 after sitting on the sidelines without a chance for a while. I went into the pack in the next frame at 29-0 and if that had come off I would have gone 5-4 ahead. In the last two frames I played good safety shots but he knocked in great long reds. I can’t be critical of myself, it’s not like the semi-final in Scotland (against Joe O’Connor) when I lost four or five frames where I was in control.
“Today I didn’t play any sloppy safety shots, both of us played some fantastic stuff. I have never played better then I have over the last few tournaments, you can see that with my scoring, winning frames in one visit. I take it as a great compliment that people are playing so well against me because they know they have to. I am enjoying the brand of snooker I am playing. I’m looking forward to the Christmas break and carrying that form into the Masters.”