Mark Selby lifted the Betfred World Championship last night to complete a miserable evening for China.
First, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn announced a campaign to take the World Championship overseas to China had failed, after announcing a 10-year deal to keep the tournament in Sheffield.
Then world No 1 Selby broke the heart of Sheffield-based Ding Junhui – and a viewing audience estimated at over 100 million tuning in from his native China – after an 18-14 win at the Crucible Theatre.
Ding, roared on by the crowd in his adopted hometown, was aiming to become the first Asian player to win the world title.
He had battled back from 6-0 and 16-11 down to slash the deficit – “I had a very bad start, at 6-0, I was nervous” – but could not deny Selby joining an elite group who have won multiple Crucible titles.
Hearn claimed “the winner is Sheffield” after a deal was thrashed out with Sheffield City Council to keep snooker in the city until 2027, beating off competition from a “host of major international cities”.
And even though the 980-seat capacity is restrictive – next year’s final sold out “inside five minutes” after going on sale yesterday, in a day which saw £1m worth of ticket sales – Hearn is adamant the World Championship belongs in Sheffield.
“Sheffield is synonymous with the Crucible,” Hearn told The Yorkshire Post. “That’s not to say if they want to knock it down and build us a bigger venue, I wouldn’t be in favour because I have had murders today with the amount of people wanting tickets.
“The Crucible is where we come from, that’s our history.
“The atmosphere here is what we call British eccentricity. There is no other venue in the world that has a semi-final that lasts three days. There’s no other event in the world, of this stature, that has 400 million people watching that takes place in a 900-seater auditorium.”
The World Championship – watched by over 400 million people across the planet in 89 different countries – has been staged at the iconic Crucible since 1977, making next year its 40th anniversary.
Hearn believes the deal will bring financial investment into Sheffield, as well as an “international trade partnership” with the city being promoted at 17 overseas events on the World Snooker Tour.
Hearn said: “They (the council) were very supportive from day one. It was just a case of finding a reasonable common ground with the financials and investment.
“The winner is Sheffield rather than the council or Barry Hearn, because the exposure that Sheffield gets – the international investment coming into the city – it’s a very good deal for Sheffield.”
Ding – a former UK and Masters winner – trailed 10-7 overnight, and yesterday afternoon won three of the opening four frames.
Both players had chances in the opening frame, but Ding potted an 89 clearance.
If Ding was to win, he could not rely totally on his heavy scoring, and had to match Selby’s safety play. So taking frame 19, a 50-minute safety fest – a scenario where Selby usually comes out on top – was a real statement of intent for Ding.
The Leicester cueman was 34 points in front, with 35 remaining, but Ding dropped a difficult red, and an even trickier pink, to clear up.
Back-to-back centuries followed – Selby’s 126, before Ding notched 103 – but losing the previous safety battle was a body blow to the world No 1.
Ding had been forced to win three qualifying matches just to reach the televised stages at the Crucible, after a poor season saw him drop out of the world’s top 16.
Having moved to Sheffield from China as a teenager, Ding has lived in the Steel City for over a decade but has struggled to perform in his adopted hometown since making his debut in 2007.
As a qualifier he has flown under the radar this year, and the Crucible crowd were cheering on the underdog. But Selby did not earn his reputation as a granite-tough player for nothing, and at 11-10 won three of the next four frames to go into the evening session 14-11 ahead.
He did have some good fortune, though. He stalled on a 52 break, a lead of 27, with 27 points remaining on the table. Ding got the snooker, only to then gift Selby an easy yellow and the frame.
It was a similar story in frame 23. Selby was in front again, with a 68 break, but Ding had a chance to pinch the frame only to miss a simple red.
The pair exchanged the last couple of frames of the afternoon session, Ding firing in a 52, before Selby replied with a 55.
It meant Selby needed just four more frames from last night’s session, a swift 57 break accounting for the first.
When he missed a long-range red, Ding nipped in for a 60 break. But he was punished for not making the frame safe, as Selby cleared the remaining balls including a stunning final black.
At 16-11, Ding was on the ropes, but kept his cool to knock in breaks of 73, 70 and 103 – the 86th century this year to equal a tournament record – to claw back the deficit. It also prevented Selby from potting a single ball in nearly an hour.
But Selby crawled to the next frame, which dragged on 51 minutes, before a 74 break secured the trophy and £330,000 prize money.