World Championship Final Preview: Mark Selby vs Ding Junhui

It’ll be Mark Selby who takes on Ding Junhui in the final of the 2016 Betfred World Championship in Sheffield.

Selby Ding World 11
The pair met in the 2011 quarter-finals, where Ding won 13-10 – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

After an epic, grueling contest with Marco Fu, the 2014 champion edged into his third final after a titanic 17-15 victory in which the clock was edging near midnight on Saturday.

It was a typical master of brinkmanship performance from Selby, who rarely was at his best throughout the entire encounter, but simply refused to let his opponent lay claim to being the better man.

Fu will look back and regret missed opportunities in the second and third sessions when Selby was really struggling, particularly mentally.

But in the fourth session, the world no.1’s auto-pilot to emerge victorious at any cost kicked in and it was always going to be difficult for Fu to dislodge granite from the table.

A first all-Asian final is denied then but perhaps the showpiece which will more likely provide us with the most entertainment has materialised.

Selby got bogged down in the semi-final and Fu, negating his obvious opportunity to pull away, followed his opponent into a similar pattern of play.

It was a close affair and the latter exchanges were as tense and riveting as they come, but the majority was not a classic by any means.

Selby will not be able to afford to get bogged down in such fashion against a Ding displaying his current form.

Not only is the adored Chinese competitor scoring heavily, with a record-breaking seven centuries compiled in his own last four victory over Alan McManus, the 29 year-old appears as composed, relaxed and determined as he has ever been on the baize.

Even after reaching his maiden world final Ding was wary not to get over excited, fully aware of the fact that the objective isn’t yet fulfilled.

Other than Ronnie O’Sullivan, Selby arguably represents the most threatening obstacle Ding could face in a world final.

However, the 11-time ranking event winner has coped with the intense pressure much more competently than in the past at the Crucible, and openly admitted he wants to ignore as much of the hype from back home as possible.

We’re often repeatedly reminded about the 18.5 million viewers who tuned in 31 years ago to watch the final between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis.

Just how many people will be watching across China as Ding attempts to create history – 50 million? 100 million? 200?

Of course, if that is in any way at the forefront of his mind then there is always the threat that he may crumble at some point in the final, at which juncture you’d expect an experienced Selby to pounce.

But comparisons which you will hear between Ding’s personality and potential now and that of the 19 year-old boy who suffered a meltdown in the Masters final more than nine years ago are completely irrelevant.

He is a different animal now, a man with experience and the know-how to get the job done even if he won’t produce his A-game, aided by the additional coup of having coach Terry Griffiths in his corner.

Ding, like Griffiths did in 1979, could become only the third qualifier to lift the world trophy.

Selby, meanwhile, has been at this stage before and knows what is necessary, indeed achieved so against an O’Sullivan in a final who was playing almost to his full potential in the beginning.

The six-time ranking event winner has not scored well, though, and it’ll be important for him to kill off just as many frames in one visit as Ding is likely to manage on him.

Could stamina play a part? Selby was involved in many taxing frames in his last four clash with Fu whereas all of Ding’s matches have been more open – including the three qualifying wins in Ponds Forge in which he dispatched all of his challengers with ease.

Yet, at this point adrenaline should keep both players going and they can worry about being tired when the last ball is potted and a champion is crowned.

Who might that champion be? We’ll know over the course of the next 35 frames.

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