Mark Selby’s historic 147 overshadows Luca Brecel’s bold snooker in tight World Championship final
It was almost impossible to imagine how Luca Brecel’s brand of thrill-seeking snooker could be overshadowed by the end of the opening day of this wild World Championship final, but Mark Selby managed it. Selby came to the table 9-7 down, eyeing a simple red; 10 minutes later he was walking towards the last black with a grin in the direction of his wife and daughter sitting up in the gods; they were watching a break from the gods, and once he completed the 147, the tension in the room melted away.
The crowd howled in appreciation as Brecel embraced his opponent with a big hug. The referee, Brendan Moores, took off one of his white gloves and shook Selby by the hand – this will be Moores’ last ever match and it is some occasion to go out on, overseeing the first ever maximum break in a Crucible final. Selby enjoyed the moment, throwing up his arms to raise the crowd’s volume like a rock star on stage.
Like all 147s, it had bubbled under the surface at first, awareness spreading gradually and then taking hold once the frame was secure. He left the most awkward red until last, nestling the cue ball close on the side cushion before rolling it into the corner with the help of the rest. Then it was about keeping his nerve, and we know Selby has plenty of that.
It was the 14th ever Crucible maximum and came on the 40th anniversary of the first, by Cliff Thorburn against Terry Griffiths in 1983. It was the second this year after Kyren Wilson’s in the first round, and they will share the £40,000 prize for a maximum as well as a £15,000 reward for the tournament’s highest break.
Usually the match is just a vessel in which a 147 takes place, but this break was odd in that it came amid such high stakes. Just as important as the 15 reds and blacks and six colours that Selby potted was the mistake Brecel made in the very next frame – the last of the night – catching his target too thick to leave the cue ball in the middle of the table and lose a safety exchange. Selby mopped up to end 9-8 behind, having earlier been 9-5 down when it had been unfathomable that he would leave the room with cue extension aloft, to rapturous applause.
Brecel won the first three frames and finished the opening session 6-2 ahead, having played some blistering snooker. Nothing is more dangerous than an opponent with no fear and Brecel played as if there were no consequences, taking on high-tariff pots and making most of them. The question before this final was whether the mercurial Belgian could adjust to Selby’s more methodical tempo; yet in reality it was Selby who couldn’t keep up with Brecel’s attacking game.
The 28-year-old Belgian has lost his past six meetings with Selby. He had never won a match at the Crucible before this tournament, and he seemed down and out in both the quarter-final and semi-final. But then nothing about Brecel is predictable, and his raw talent is finally clicking with devastating effect. He began one break with an outlandish doubled red, then powered a hugely difficult brown into the middle and sent the cue ball careering into the bunch. Later he potted a long red and whipped his cue through with a flourish to generate the most awesome screw back up the table to safety – not that he needed it, as the red found the pocket.
He has avoided practice between matches, instead going home to Belgium to play computer games and get drunk with his friends, and while that may not delight some of snooker’s hard grafters like Stephen Hendry, it is working – and he is thrilling the crowd. At times it was like he was putting on an exhibition rather than playing in a World Championship final; more street performer than professional.
Yet when he was well ahead, he hit a wild shot crashing the cue ball into the reds and effectively handed frame 15 to Selby. It revealed something – a blip in concentration, some overexuberance, even complacency. Brecel has spent so much of this tournament behind, with nothing to lose, but finally he has something to protect.
So perhaps the only saving grace for Brecel was that the night ended when it did. Selby had sucked up all the momentum and it seemed like he could have gone on and won a few more. Instead they return for Monday’s finale and for all the wonder and magic of Selby’s famous break, it is still Brecel who will have a slender head start in their race to 18. At the end of one of the most extraordinary days in Crucible history, we are still none the wiser as to who will lift the trophy.