It was a case of better late than never for Mark Selby tonight as he beat Shaun Murphy in the williamhill.com UK Championship final.
The Leicester man landed the biggest ranking event title of his career, tying up a 10-6 victory over his good friend Shaun Murphy at two minutes past midnight at the York Barbican Centre.
It was an appropriate way to mark his return to the world number one ranking, and Selby was warmly embraced by Murphy after wrapping up his win.
Selby, 29, had a 14-month spell as snooker’s top-ranked player in which he failed to win a major trophy, and consequently he relinquished top spot to Judd Trump last month.
But Trump’s first spell as number one was brief, ending when Selby reached the final at York’s Barbican Centre. And there could be no better way for Selby to begin his second stint as the sport’s leading player than with some long-awaited silverware.
He and Murphy looked to be perfectly matched as they shared the opening 12 frames today.
But just as a very late finish, well into the early hours of the morning, began to loom, Selby seized control and reeled off four straight frames after the interval to take the trophy and a £125,000 winner’s cheque.
While Selby has won the Masters title twice, the UK Championship and World Championship titles had proved elusive. Now he has the first of those, the second will be his target in the second half of the season.
From 4-4 at the end of the afternoon action, they progressed to 6-6 by the evening mid-session interval, and in the best-of-19 contest that meant there were a possible seven frames still to play.
Selby needed only four.
It was no surprise the final was closely fought until its closing stages, with both men having needed to rely on battling tendencies to last the distance over the nine-day tournament.
Selby came from 4-0 behind to beat Neil Robertson 6-4 in the quarter-finals, while Murphy produced the tournament’s finest fightback to stun Ali Carter in their semi-final, recovering from 8-4 adrift to win 9-8.
Selby had breaks of 54, 66, 70, 58, 51 and 98 in his success, while Murphy had 83, 98 and 65.
This was the first all-English final at the UK Championship since Jimmy White beat John Parrott in 1992. In those days the final was a best-of-31 match.
There was plenty riding on this final, with Murphy seeking his first ranking title for over 18 months and Selby bidding to lift his maiden UK Championship.
Selby now has a third ranking title to his name, still a meagre tally considering his great ability.
Murphy remains on four rankings titles.
Selby’s charge began after the mid-session interval, and as Murphy’s game began to deteriorate he took full advantage.
Murphy had the chance to pinch the 16th frame but could not hold his game together under intense pressure and Selby made certain of the title by clipping in the blue.
Selby was delighted at last to claim one of the game's two biggest ranking titles.
“I’m over the moon,” he said. “It means a great deal to me and to beat someone of Shaun’s class in a major final it makes it even more special.
“It was a strange game tonight. It wasn’t pretty. I felt as if it wasn’t even my arm half the time, twitching all over the place and flicking them in here and there.”
Murphy felt Selby deserved the victory.
“He’s the hardest player on tour by a mile,” said Murphy. “He’s a worthy world number one, he fully deserves it and he fully deserves tonight.
“This tournament doesn’t owe me anything. I should have gone home to Luca [Brecel] in the quarters and I should have gone home to Ali in the semis. I’ve had a great week and I’ve had great support.
“I’ve played some good stuff and I’ve been beaten by the best in the world so it’s not all bad.”
Selby conceded he too could easily have gone out of the tournament before the final.
“I never really give in until the last ball’s potted, that’s just me all over,” he said. “If I wasn’t like that there’s no way I would have got to the final.
“Like Shaun, I should have gone out to Ryan Day, should have gone out to Neil, but here we both are in the final.”
With £125,000 in his bank account just before Christmas, he added: “We can have a bit more tinsel and a few more baubles, so that’s good.”