MARK Selby admitted that he had gone from having a pain in the neck to being a pain in the neck to wife Vikki during the most stressful year of his snooker career.
But, after landing the biggest title of his life on Sunday night at the williamhill.com UK Championship, Selby is looking forward to making amends. Bringing home the £125,000 winner’s cheque from York should help.
At the World Championship in April, Selby was almost a Crucible non-starter and, when he did show up for a first-round assignment against qualifier Barry Hawkins, he could barely move his head due to neck pain and was soundly beaten. It was tough to take as world No 1 and Selby’s self-belief suffered as a consequence.
He now concedes that, during his anguish, he was not fair on those around him, including Vikki who cheered him to victory over Shaun Murphy at the Barbican Centre last night.
“Even since my neck injury has gone, because I’ve been struggling for confidence I’ve been going to tournaments and not really performing,” Selby said.
“I’ve been coming back and getting a bit down with myself and probably taking my work home and taking it out on Vikki and stuff, so yes it’s been tough.
“I never had any doubts I would be back playing in tournaments to a good level. But the confidence was a big blow. I’m still getting that back, and I’ve got to take a lot of confidence from this. At one stage I was looking like not knowing if I was going to play again and here I am playing and competing again.”
The 29-year-old Leicester cueman goes by the nickname “Jester” but, for a newly-crowned champion, he was unusually downbeat, even after his name was added to the great names on the UK trophy last night.
Clearly the confidence has yet to be fully restored in his game, and that stems from the frustration of having to spend months recovering from the kind of injury that can ruin a snooker player’s career.
“As much as I love the game, I want to be playing all the while. When I’m sitting at home just watching – and watching other people win – it is obviously upsetting,” Selby said.
He claims the debate over whether he was a worthy world No 1 during his first 14-month stretch at the top did not trouble him.
Given that he did not win a title in that period, it has been argued that Selby did not deserve to be at the summit. “They’ve probably got a right to say that. I probably wasn’t performing like a world number one but rankings don’t lie,” Selby said.
He lost the top spot for a month to Judd Trump but now has it back after his run to the York final. “Obviously it was great to get through the semi-final and get my number one spot back and this title is the icing on the cake,” Selby said.
Beaten finalist Murphy has no doubt Selby was, and will again prove to be, a No 1 for snooker to be proud of.
The Sale-based 30-year-old embraced Selby once the 10-6 result was tied up, and Murphy said: “I’m very pleased for him. He’s more than just a good mate on tour, he’s one of my best mates. I feel some of the criticism he’s taken over the last year, maybe couple of years, has been completely unfounded. He’s been number one for a long time, he’s one of the best pros on the tour. He can only try his best.
“Anyone who’s criticised him, none of those people has achieved anything in the game. None of the people who have won anything have ever criticised him.”