It was almost impossible to imagine how Luca Brecel’s brand of thrill-seeking snooker could be overshadowed by the opening-day finish of this wild World Championship final, but Mark Selby pulled it off. Selby came to the table 9-7 down, looking at a simple red; He 10 minutes later he was walking towards the last black with a smile in the direction of his wife and daughter sitting on the gods; they were watching a break from the gods, and once he completed 147, the tension in the room melted away.
The crowd howled in appreciation as Brecel embraced his opponent in a big hug. The referee, Brendan Moores, removed one of his white gloves and shook Selby’s hand; this will be Moores last match and a good chance to break out, overseeing the first top break in a Crucible final. Selby relished the moment, raising her arms to raise the volume of the crowd like a rock star onstage.
Like all 147, it had bubbled beneath the surface at first, awareness gradually spreading, then taking hold once the framework was secure. He saved the most awkward red for last, slotting the cue ball near the sideline before rolling it into the corner with help from the rest. Then it was all about keeping her nerve, and we know Selby has a lot of that.
It was the Crucible’s 14th maximum and came on the 40th anniversary of the first, of Cliff Thorburn vs. Terry Griffiths in 1983. It was their second this year after Kyren Wilson in the first round, and they will share the £40,000 prize for a maximum, as well as a reward of £15,000 for the highest break in the tournament.
Usually the match is just a bowl in which a 147 takes place, but this break was strange because it came in the midst of so much stakes. Just as important as the 15 reds and blacks and six colors Selby potted was the mistake Brecel made in the 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 security exchange. Selby finished 9-8 behind, having trailed 9-5 when it was inconceivable for him to walk out of the room with his cue outstretched to enthusiastic applause.
Brecel won the first three frames and finished the opening session 6-2 ahead, having played some fast-paced billiards. Nothing is more dangerous than a fearless opponent and Brecel played like there were no consequences, taking high fee pots and making the most of them. The question ahead of this final was whether the mercurial Belgian could adapt to Selby’s more methodical pace; however, it was actually Selby who was unable to keep up with Brecel’s attacking game.
The 28-year-old Belgian has lost his last six meetings with Selby. He had never won a match in the Crucible before this tournament, and he seemed down in both the quarterfinals and semifinals. But then, nothing about Brecel is predictable, and his raw talent is finally clicking with devastating effect. He started a break with a wacky double red, then drove a hugely difficult brown up the middle and sent the cue ball hurtling into the group. Later, he potted a long red and whipped his cue with a flourish to generate the most impressive bolt back to 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 hustlers like Stephen Hendry, it’s working, and it’s exciting. to the crowd. Sometimes it was as if he was putting on an exhibition instead of playing in a World Championship final; more street artist than professional.
However, when he was well in front, he hit a wild shot that smashed the cue ball into the reds and effectively handed the 15th frame to Selby. He revealed something: a failure to concentrate, an excess of exuberance, even complacency. Brecel has spent much of this tournament in the background, with nothing to lose, but he finally has something to protect.
So perhaps the only saving grace for Brecel was that the night ended the way it did. Selby had soaked up all the momentum and it looked like he could have gone on and gained some more. Instead, they return for Monday’s finale, and despite all the wonder and magic of Selby’s famous break, it’s still Brecel who will have a slim lead in his run to 18. At the end of one of the days most extraordinary in Crucible history, we still don’t know who will lift the trophy.