Mark Selby continued his dominance in Beijing with an 11-3 victory over Barry Hawkins in the final of the China Open on Sunday.
The world number one had been enduring one of his most prolonged periods in the doldrums coming into his defence of the penultimate ranking event of the campaign after a difficult spell, by his high standards at least, saw him suffer a series of early exits in events.
Yet, a ferocious winner like Selby was hardly going to be struggling for long and it’s typical of the 34 year-old that he began producing again with major silverware on the line and when the big bucks were up for grabs.
The revamped China Open this year provided an unprecedented total prize fund of £1 million for a tournament staged outside the UK and the “Jester” will again be laughing his way to the bank after collecting a cool cheque for £225,000.
Selby was well-tested in his opening couple of encounters this week at the Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium but his confidence increased as he manoeuvred his way through the rounds.
The final, which unusually was contested over the best of 21 frames, turned out to be a straightforward procession to the winning line for the Englishman.
Selby didn’t play at his very best but he wasn’t required to as Hawkins failed to turn up, missing a host of routine shots that gifted numerous frames to his opponent.
Against anyone, that kind of play is dicing with danger but against a competitor as ruthless as Selby the showdown, if you can call it that, was only going to end in one fashion.
Hawkins, seeking the biggest payday and most prestigious title of his career, took an early advantage but the signs of what were to come materialised soon after when he rattled an easy yellow in the second frame.
Selby duly went on a five-frame winning run, poaching a couple of frames on the colours, and any hope Hawkins salvaged was being sapped out of him with every subsequent failure to make frame winning contributions when in with an opportunity.
The 38 year-old stopped the rot with a timely 75 to reduce his arrears to 5-2 behind and a strong finish to the opening session could have kept things interesting.
But Selby stamped his authority once more with runs of 90 and 75 helping him to an 8-2 advantage and, upon the restart in the evening, compiled the fixture’s first century – a 112 to add to the eight others he had made during the week’s play prior to the final.
It didn’t take long for him to complete the demolition job and, after the pair shared a couple of frames, another century helped Selby to raise the trophy aloft again in front of what wasn’t an especially electric atmosphere – highlighting a persistent problem with Chinese events in general with attendances generally average throughout the tournament.
Regardless of that, the triumph is Selby’s third China Open title in four years and the three-time world champion is, in fact, on a 21-match winning streak in the Chinese capital city, having first won the title in 2015 before not participating in the 2016 edition.
The success also guarantees that Selby will end this season as the world number one, the seventh straight campaign he will have achieved that feat.
In addition, Selby takes his ranking event winning tally to 14 – on his own in sixth place on the all-time list – and he’ll return to Sheffield in just under a fortnight as one of the major favourites again for the World Snooker Championship.
As the top two seeds at the Crucible, Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan – the best player of this term overall – will crucially be kept apart on the opposite sides of the draw and there’ll be many hoping that the pair can fight their way through the rounds to set up what would be a mouthwatering repeat of the 2014 decider.
Hawkins, with a terrific record at the Crucible in the last five years, like many others, will have his say there too but will have to bounce back from what was a disappointing final display in China.
Defeat for the “Hawk” represented his second runners-up prize in as many months after missing out in the Welsh Open to John Higgins in March but he should be happy overall with his form heading into the season’s blue riband championship.
The countdown to the Crucible well and truly begins from tomorrow, when the World Championship qualifying draw is announced.
For the next ten days, those outside the elite top 16 will battle it out for the remaining coveted spots but Selby can prepare for the opening day at the Crucible safe in the knowledge that his form is back and he is ready for a tilt at a fourth world crown in five years.