|World Championship 2017|
|Venue: The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 15 April – 1 May|
|Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC Red Button, Connected TVs, online and app.|
Defending champion Mark Selby reached the World Championship final for the third time in four years by holding off Ding Junhui 17-15 in a gripping match.
World number one Selby, who beat Ding in last year’s final, led 10-7 before being pulled back to 12-12 after the Chinese made back-to-back centuries.
Selby edged to within a frame, and despite Ding getting back to 16-15, a 72 break saw the Englishman through.
He will face Scotland’s John Higgins, who beat Barry Hawkins 17-8.
It will be a repeat of the 2007 final.
Selby proves to be too good
BBC pundits described the Selby-Ding match as one of the all-time greatest to be staged at the venue, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary of hosting the tournament.
The last-four tie featured 23 breaks over 50 between the two players, including seven centuries. Ding exits the tournament having made 13 centuries, three short of Stephen Hendry’s all-time record.
The world number four had displayed much of his new-found mental strength by leading the match, keeping check in the tactical exchanges and hitting back with superb 117 and 128 breaks. He reduced the deficit to one again, yet was unable to advance.
“I should have won more frames when I had chances and that is what cost me,” Ding said. “I could not make any mistakes, but that is what happened.
“I can see I have improved a lot. I play with more confidence and more aggressively. The fans need to see more snooker like that from me.
“But once Mark gets in front, it is very hard to come back. You have to believe in yourself and wait for the chances and take it. You cannot miss.”
Selby, 33, is the best in the sport with his abrasive style of play – claiming all eight out of nine long-drawn frames which lasted more than 30 minutes – and his resolve was too much to overcome.
Ding, 30, had beaten two fellow Chinese opponents and five-time winner Ronnie O’Sullivan in the tournament.
How the final session panned out
Selby came out firing in the final session with breaks of 74 and 96 to lead by two, but Ding hit back again with a 52 run.
Frame 28 was the turning point. Ding missed a straightforward red looking to restore parity at 14-14, but Selby edged the frame to lead by two again.
Ding attempted two snookers with just three balls remaining on the table, but Selby pocketed a long blue to go one away from victory.
Ding would not go away and pulled two back including a 73 break, and had chances to go all-square at 16-16, but Selby punched the air, banged the table and screamed in delight as he progressed with a calmly taken 72 break.
The Leicester man now has the chance to join the sport’s legends Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan as the only players to win back-to-back world titles in the modern era.
“The reaction at the end was relief – I just did not want to do something silly,” Selby said. “I am only 33 but I feel about 53.
“The adrenaline was pumping and I cannot wait for the final. To win again, for a third time, is something I can only dream of.”
Six-time world champion Steve Davis on BBC TV:
Mark [Selby] is a marvellous competitive animal and you saw at the end how much fire and determination he has. This is a game of control – you cannot let the emotions run riot during it – but it all came out at the end. Selby has what it takes.
First session: 45-76 (76), 77-22 (68), 24-84 (84), 99-0 (99), 73-34, 53-87 (52), 1-119 (56, 50), 0-116 (110) 5-3 Ding
Second session: 105-23 (100), 61-49, 62-26, 81-0 (67), 0-94 (84), 96-9 (85), 0-139 (139), 66-27 9-7 Selby
Third session: 128-8 (128), 6-95 (95), 6-80, 64-25 (64), 14-86, 66-61, 1-117 (117), 1-135 (128) 12-12
Fourth session: 113-2 (74), 96-1 (96), 0-61 (52), 75-43, 75-47, 1-66, 14-73 (73), 84-9 (72) 17-15 Selby
Can Higgins defy his own expectations?
‘The Wizard of Wishaw’ Higgins last reached the final in 2011 when he beat Judd Trump and questioned whether he was still capable of reaching another final.
But at the age of 41, he has enjoyed a resurgence in his career, winning three non-ranking titles this season and coming runner-up at the Scottish Open.
Last season’s International Championship triumph took him to 28 ranking titles victories, putting him joint-second on the all-time list alongside Ronnie O’Sullivan and eight behind Hendry.
Despite leading from the start against Hawkins and claiming six frames in a row in the third session to pull away, he was not at his best and missing simple blacks off the spot will be of major concern to him.
He needed a couple of opportunities to claim the frame he needed, but finished in style with a century break to go through.
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