Luca Brecel withstood a stirring comeback from Mark Selby to clinch a dramatic 18-15 victory and become the first player from continental Europe to win the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible.
After coming back from outrageous deficits to sink both Ronnie O’Sullivan and Si Jiahui in earlier rounds, the brilliant 28-year-old switched roles to avoid a late rise from the four-time champion.
Resuming 9-8 in front after an opening day that saw the headlines grabbed by Selby’s historic top break, Brecel attacked four centuries in a blistering penultimate session to severely test his opponent’s storied reputation for triumphing against all odds. .
Brecel proceeded to extend his lead to 16-10, but watched with mounting exasperation as Selby snatched five in a row to threaten a dramatic finish before the Belgian moved a frame closer and then crossed the line in style with his fifth century of the match. .
“I just didn’t fancy winning this final,” admitted Brecel after collecting the winner’s check for £500,000.
“I think it has been too long, too much pressure, too many late nights. I had been behind in most of my games and was looking forward to going home against Ronnie and especially Si.
“Today when Mark came back from 9-5 to 9-8, I felt like I had already lost him. I just didn’t fancy winning, but if you feel that way and keep producing those breaks, I feel like I deserve it.”
His victory made him the youngest winner since Shaun Murphy in 2005 and capped a remarkable if late rise for Brecel, whose outrageous promise as a junior had threatened to evaporate in a relatively frustrating few years on the professional circuit.
And it was all the more remarkable in the context of Brecel’s claims that he had made it to the tournament, and outpointed Ricky Walden in a final draw draw in the first round, fueled by a paltry practice regimen and lots of partying.
“It won’t be soon but I’m not going to get out of control,” the new champion insisted on his imminent celebration plans.
“I’m not a party animal, it’s just a coincidence that happened before this World Championship. I’ll probably have a few drinks with my family, but I have to go home tomorrow.”
Brecel’s exhilarating intent to take on almost every pot imaginable made him an instant favorite among Crucible fans and sabotaged Selby’s hopes of continuing the recovery he had begun on Sunday.
Brecel returned on Monday looking simply devastating, firing three centuries in the first four frames of the day to create a 13-9 lead before the mid-session interval gave the favorite a respite from the onslaught of pots to come. I had introduced him.
The four-time champion was clearly out of his mind, taking many of Brecel’s opportunities by leaving the reds dangling desperately over corner pockets, but no one would have expected anything less than one of his trademark comebacks.
Just as he had worked his way back to win earlier finals over Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, Selby launched his assault just after the interval, winning two in a row, including frame 23 after a lengthy battle for safety.
However, where other opponents might have felt the pressure, Brecel was unfazed and duly returned to the table to sink a daring opening red before proceeding to clear the balls for his nerveless fourth century of the session.
Arguably Brecel’s most impressive frame was yet to come, as he wiped out Selby’s carefully constructed 40-point lead on the back of another long red, his own pressure-packed break of 40 just as gratifying as his previous hundreds. .
Brecel continued his potting exploits as he took the first frame of the final session with a break of 67 to move within two frames of victory at 16-10.
Inevitably though, Selby moved. He launched his improbable comeback with a break of 78 before racking up the next four frames in a row to reach the brink of parity at 16-15.
But there was a more dramatic change of momentum in frame 32 when Selby missed a simple black, allowing Brecel to stop the rot, before a brilliant 112 shot brought him to the line.
Selby paid tribute to Brecel, saying he would have no problem putting the loss into perspective following his highly publicized struggle with mental health issues, while his wife Vikki is also recovering from illness.
“Some of the pool Luca played today was amazing,” Selby said. “To be playing in his first final and making four centuries, he kept putting the balls in every chance he got.
“Just coming out the other side with my mental health from where it was, it’s really me winning, it’s irrelevant what else happens because if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything.
“If this had been last year, I would not have been able to come back from where I fought. As long as I keep working and my health is good, I hope I have more time.”