Mark Selby and Luca Brecel will contest the 2023 World Snooker Championship final at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
The pair emerged from semi-final clashes that both involved comebacks and ended 17-15 but were a complete contrast in styles.
Selby reached a sixth World Snooker Championship final after withstanding a late rally from Mark Allen, eventually getting over the winning line as the time approached 1am.
The 39 year-old will bid to become the sport’s world champion for a fifth time, having previously been crowned at the Crucible in 2014, 2016, 2017, and 2021.
Selby was nowhere near his best during the bruising battle with Allen but was always going to be the more likely to progress when the encounter regressed into a war of attrition.
The majority of their affair was unpleasing on the eye, with several protracted safety battles and slow play ruining any degree of fluidity the game had to offer.
It represented the complete polar opposite of the semi-final tie between Brecel and Si Jiahui, which had concluded earlier on Saturday afternoon.
The Belgian Bullet conjured statistically the greatest comeback in the tournament’s history by fighting back from nine frames down to stun his young Chinese opponent.
Si had orchestrated a seemingly insurmountable 14-5 advantage after a remarkable period of play in which the 20 year-old instigated a masterclass in attacking snooker.
But a couple of missed pots towards the end of the third session offered Brecel a reprieve, and the 28 year-old subsequently strung together an amazing 11-frame winning streak courtesy of his own version of no-miss snooker.
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The two semi-finals offered a perfect insight into the varying brands of snooker the game has to offer.
It sets up an intriguing title-deciding showdown between an emerging star whose mantra will comprise all-out-attack and an all-time great who doesn’t shy away from the dark arts if it means it’ll get the job done.
Invariably when he reaches this stage of a big event, Selby knows how to get his name on the silverware – making him the obvious favourite for glory in Sheffield again.
Since his appearance in the 2014 World Snooker Championship final, Selby has won 19 out of the 21 ranking event finals he’s been involved in.
In fact, the only time he was denied at this hurdle of a ranking competition since 2016 was at the 2021 Snooker Shoot Out, a match that lasted just one frame.
There could be a total of 35 frames before the 2023 world champion is determined, a length of match that Brecel will have limited experience of participating in.
Still, the former European amateur champion may have one advantage heading into the start of this year’s World Championship final.
Having finished his last-four tussle much earlier, Brecel should be the fresher of the two during Sunday’s opening couple of sessions.
Despite the fact that he has already demonstrated his ability to claw his way back from desperate situations – also beating reigning champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 13-10 in the quarter-finals having trailed by four frames – it will likely be imperative for the underdog to get off to a positive start in the final.
Selby has underlined in the past his prowess as a frontrunner and also as a master of brinkmanship, meaning whatever happens on day one, he will not be written off heading into Monday’s decisive day of action.
The duo’s head-to-head reads favourably for the former world number one, with Selby winning eight of their 11 prior ties in all competitions.
Their most recent encounter with one another was also in a final, at this season’s English Open when Selby beat Brecel 9-6 to claim the Steve Davis Trophy in Brentwood.
The latter, bidding for a fourth career ranking title, has improved even in the short period since then.
Boasting a laid-back approach that has endeared him to a lot of fans, victory for Brecel would represent the coming-of-age moment for a cueist who has long been billed as ranking among the most naturally gifted ever.
Selby may not possess quite the same skillset as his opponent, but he more than makes up for that in his relentless ambition to be as successful as possible.
Triumph again on the most important stage of them all would only serve to rubberstamp Selby’s status as one of the sport’s greatest competitors.
Prediction: Mark Selby 18-15 Luca Brecel
Sunday, April 30th – 1pm and 7pm
Monday, May 1st – 1pm and 7pm
For the full World Snooker Championship draw, results, live scores, and session times, click here.
Featured photo credit: WST