Mark Selby did his part to secure a famous Leicester double last night as he triumphed 18-14 over Ding Junhui to win the 2016 Betfred World Snooker Championship in style.
With Selby’s beloved Leicester City securing the unlikeliest of Premier League titles thanks to Chelsea’s 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge, he did what he had to do at Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre to lift the trophy for the second time in his career.
An estimated 150 million people were watching Ding – the first Asian to reach the world final – back home in China and perhaps that burden of expectation weighed heavily on him.
But to his credit, he fought valiantly over the two days, falling 6-0 behind early in the match yet closing to within a frame on multiple occasions.
He could never quite fully eradicate the deficit however and in frame 32, Selby held his nerve to finally complete the job and join an elite list of men to have won two world titles at the Crucible Theatre – pointing up to his family in the crowd at the moment of victory
Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are the only other men to have triumphed multiple times at the Crucible and in some ways this success may be even sweeter to Selby than his 2014 triumph, having battled through despite failing to regularly produce his best snooker over the past fortnight.
Yet, like all true champions, the world No 1 – who ends the season top of the rankings for an incredible fifth year in a row – came up with the goods when it mattered most, making two centuries and eight further half-centuries during the course of the final.
For his part, Ding has long been tipped as Asia’s first world snooker champion and his performances in Sheffield this year suggest he will undoubtedly have other chances to lift the famous trophy in future years.
But on this night it was Selby who etched his name alongside the sport’s all-time greats and could celebrate as the confetti fell around him.
Trailing 10-7 overnight, Ding had closed to 10-9 and 11-10 behind but never quite managed to get back on level terms in the afternoon as the Englishman took control after the mid-session interval to establish a 14-11 lead.
After becoming the first man since Jimmy White against John Parrott in 1991 to fall 6-0 behind in a World Championship final, the Chinese superstar had shown serious grit and determination to even give himself a chance in the match. Yet his race looked run once and for all as a nerveless 57 break saw Selby win the first frame of the evening before a brilliant clearance in the next saw him pinch it on the black.
At 16-11, the Englishman needed two frames for victory, yet Ding fought back in style with consecutive breaks of 73, 70 and 103 to narrow the deficit to a more-manageable 16-14.
The 29-year-old didn’t allow his opponent to score a single point in those three frames yet a scrappy, 50-minute affair in the next gave both players plenty of table time. And, as predicted before the match, a safety scrap favoured the 2014 champion as he eventually emerged triumphant to move within a frame of victory.
Indeed, he didn’t have to wait long to get over the line as he calmly took his chance in the very next frame – closing out the win with a break of 74 to become world champion for the second time in three years.
l Watch the World Championship live on Eurosport, with Colin Murray and analysis by Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan.