There was no wild party, no breast beating. Mark Selby emerged from his silo of concentration and allowed himself two closed fists as the winning ball fell, the job meticulously completed. It was the night he became a four-time Crucible World Champion, when he joined Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins in that elite class. But over four exciting sessions, it was also a final in which the steadfast Selby demonstrated why it’s nearly impossible to beat when it really matters.
Selby has now won 17 of 18 major finals since becoming world champion in 2014, a clinical streak Shaun Murphy couldn’t stop in an 18-15 loss. It won’t go down as a heavy scoring classic, with just five centuries and countless breaks of fifty ruptures. But it was a memorable encounter of snooker styles, if not ideologies, between Selby’s pragmatism and Murphy’s impulse, between one player blocking the crowd and one inviting them in, plugging into the noise. A moment that epitomized the dichotomy came at 12-9, when Murphy came to the table and refused a simple safety, instead throwing himself on an ambitious long red that barely disturbed the pocket. Selby calmly wiped himself off to go 13-9.
You can’t blame Murphy for using the entertaining pool table that led him to the final, for relying on offensive instincts that made him famous in 2005 when the rosy-cheeked debutant won the world title, shooting anything that was geometrically drinkable. Murphy, 22, was irresistible that year and it seemed unimaginable that he could go so long without another world crown, but thrilling infallibility spells, like Judd Trump’s blitz two years ago, tend to be the exception, not the rule. . Minimizing a rival’s opportunities usually counts more than making your own.
Selby sealed the world title on Monday, but it was truly won on Sunday night in a spell that captured exactly why playing it is such a off-putting experience. Selby won six of the last seven frames of the night; at one point, Murphy spent an entire hour without repotting a ball. Gradually, Selby increased the pressure, both on the dashboard and on the crucible floor, the heat rising under the striplights, like an extremely refined form of psychological torture in which the exhibitor wears a bow tie.
It was Selby at his best, scoring while gently removing his rival’s sense of rhythm or timing so they end up coming back to the table feeling drunk on punch. His decision making was almost flawless; it would be wrong to say he was defensive but Selby saved his most spectacular shots when the risk was low. Like the Monday afternoon moment when, 11-8 more but 51 points behind in the frame, he put an outrageous red down the length of the table before gunning in the dark with precision (such a good moment that the BBC quickly put him in their shortlist for the tournament photo). It sounded like an exclamation of intent, an announcement that he had taken full charge of the table, and although he couldn’t get the frame back, he posted successive pauses of 107, 54, and 50 to claim the next two and tighten its grip.
Murphy was always bound to explode in life and it came in exciting bursts, like his brilliant break when 13-9 down he finished left-handed, screwing the cushions cue ball at angles impossible for the most. great crowd pleaser. But his moments of elation were met with impenetrable calm: Selby took the next frame to carry a 14-11 advantage in the final session.
When they came back he moved to 15-11 before Murphy brilliantly clarified to make 15-12. They traded the next two frames before Selby hit a beautifully made 120 break, the highest in the final, to take him to one of the trophies. Murphy fought back with centuries in a row to reduce the deficit to 17-15, but that only delayed his loss as Selby won a tactical final frame, the kind he enjoys. Murphy’s last shot was a brave but high-risk red on the rail that remained seated in the jaws.
For Murphy, a third final lost since his only world title 16 years ago will be a source of encouragement, a sign that he is back close to his best after a few years of fallow. He’s 38 and more chances will come, but on that proof he’ll have to be near perfect to break the granite consistency of the game’s very high level. For Selby, a relentless display added his name to an elite group of four. once Crucible champions on another night of silent satisfaction, another perfectly closed final, another plotter victory over the Potters.