Mark Selby has won the 2017 China Open after an epic 10-8 victory over Mark Williams in Beijing on Sunday.
The world number one compiled three century breaks in an entertaining showdown in which he won the last three frames for a fourth ranking event title of the campaign.
The defeat for Williams not only denied him a first ranking crown in six years, but also means he is forced to enter Ponds Forge next week for World Championship qualifying.
Had the 42 year-old pocketed the £85,000 winner’s cheque he would have dislodged Ryan Day in 16th place in the world rankings and secured an automatic berth at the Crucible.
While Day must be the most relieved man in Britain this evening, two-time former world champion Williams must now win three preliminary encounters to return to the scene of his most famous triumphs.
The final was a topsy-turvy affair which ebbed one way and then the other with both competitors producing an excellent standard throughout.
The opening session boasted an array of sizeable contributions as the pair traded four tons, with Selby holding a narrow 5-4 advantage going into the evening play.
Williams quickly levelled and duly established a 7-6 lead at the final mid-session interval to invigorate his hopes of a 19th ranking title of an illustrious career.
However, after Selby restored parity, ironically Williams’ eventual demise came from a lengthy 15th frame that he actually won to lead 8-7.
In a tactical frame which lasted just shy of an hour, Selby almost stole it on the colours only for Williams to sink the pink to regain the one-frame cushion.
Yet, the disappointment the “Jester” must have felt was put to the back of his mind as the determined 34 year-old responded with a marvellous run of 70, which included several pressure pots to stay at the table.
Selby’s third ton, a 124, helped him to the brink of victory and, despite unexpectedly rattling a simple match ball pink into the middle pocket, he got over the winning line for a second success at the China Open.
It was a fitting conclusion to an entertaining tournament which provided a pertinent prelude to the sport’s blue riband “Marathon of the Mind” which takes up the rest of April.
Selby will head back to Sheffield as one of the outright favourites to defend his crown, as he seeks to become only the sixth three-time world champion from the modern era.
Williams will have his work cut out for him at Ponds Forge, in which the draw for the qualifiers is expected to be released later this evening by World Snooker.
Not only that, the loss will mark as a huge disappointment at being unable to rejoin the winners’ circle after so many years, often by his own admission, simply making up the numbers.
If Williams can qualify for the Crucible there’ll be nobody from the top 16 who will want to draw him, that’s for sure.
Who knows, it could even be Selby awaiting the Welsh potting machine in the first round.
The former will be full of confidence after a wonderful season which has seen him extend his reign at the top of the world rankings.
To triumph again at the World Championship would mean the breaking of one snooker’s growing curses – that of the China Open champion not being able to go on and taste glory in Sheffield.
If anyone can break the hoodoo, you’d have Mark Selby at the top of the list.
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