Merk Selby ’confident enough’ ahead of World Snooker Championships

Mark ‘The Jester from Leicester’ Selby is the world snooker champion. He shocked holder Ronnie O’Sullivan to win last year’s final at the Crucible. Now firmly established as the sport’s No.1 ranked player, he is confident of retaining his title when the world’s best return to the home of the green baize today.

Merk Selby ’confident enough’ ahead of World Snooker Championships

Has life changed since becoming snooker world champion?

Yeah a little bit. I get invited to a lot more events and there are a lot more perks, but, at the same time, whether you choose to go to places or not is a different thing. I went to the Sports Personality of the Year Award, which I probably would not have got invited to in the past and that was a special night.

I think I will save things like ‘The Jungle’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ for later in my career, if I get invited, as I want to keep my focus on the table now. It has just been a great feeling being introduced as world champion every time I have played over the last season.

Thankfully I managed to win a few tournaments along the way to show why I won it last year and justify my billing.

Did you feel more relaxed or more pressure to perform as the reigning champion?

I think there was a lot of added pressure at the start and especially for the first few tournaments. I had to go out there and prove why I won the World Championships and play my A-game every time, which is not always possible.

I put a lot of pressure on myself as did the media, as obviously I was expected to be favourite to win most tournaments.

When did you start playing snooker and who were your heroes?

On a full-size table, probably when I was about nine-years-old. My father got me involved as he used to play to a good social level. He introduced me to snooker and I fell in love with it from more or less day one.

My favourite players were Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White. I used to love watching White play because of his fast, attacking style. Then the older and older I got, the more I appreciated snooker and I probably turned to Hendry who was out there with his incredible will to win. He was just a winner and his record speaks for itself.

What was it like then playing against your idols?

A little bit surreal, having watched them on the TV over the years. I had grown up watching them and then all of a sudden I turned professional and I’m playing the guys I had looked up to for many years. It is a strange feeling but also, at the same time, a fantastic feeling.

You turned professional at 16, so you must have spent a lot of your childhood on the baize?

Yeah I did. After school, I used to go straight to the snooker club and play from about 4-7pm. The older I got I put in as many hours as possible and even still do today. It is difficult now we travel so much to play tournaments, but I try and put four or five hours in every day leading up to a tournament.

How have you prepared to defend your title?

I try to prepare the same as any other event, but I think it’s hard to prepare for this one because it’s just so different to any other tournament. I don’t think there’s one set way where you can go and be like ‘right, I’m going to prepare this way.’

Eight years ago, I got to the final against John Higgins and went into the final and felt as though I had nothing left. When I got the final last year, I thought I’d prepare differently but I felt no different going out there and still felt really drained. So I think it’s just a tournament out there on its own. It’s such a testing tournament mentally and so difficult to win.

Do snooker players have to keep physically and mentally fit these days?

Yes. I do a little bit of running and I try and get in the gym as much as possible but it’s difficult at the moment because we’re just having our house extended so my equipment is all boxed up and I’ve not been doing too much lately. I do try and keep myself fit because I know that for the longevity of my career, I want to be playing as long as possible, competing at the top level and that’s going to help.

In terms of concentration and the mental side it is mainly down to experience. It’s difficult to focus for the whole match, but the more and more you play, the same with anything, the better you get at it.

You’re on record as being a keen darts player and a fan of the band Kasabian – how else do you get away from snooker?

I didn’t do that much before, we just used to go out for meals, me and my missus, and probably just go to a few concerts here and there but now we’ve just had our first child, Sophia, who’s just over five months, so that sort of distracts me a lot away from the table.

It’s been good and although I lost in the early rounds in my first couple of tournaments after she was born I was there at the birth and that betters anything I’ve achieved.

Will she be raised a Leicester City fan like yourself?

Well she doesn’t know any different yet so I’ll try and turn her into a Leicester City fan. I’m trying to win my wife over from Wolves, but her father’s a Wolves fan so she has had it in her system for a few years.

If Leicester stay in the Premier League hopefully she’ll turn to Leicester and not go with Wolves on their downward spiral.

Do you live up to your Jester nickname?

Sometimes, but I mean at the end of the day it’s just a nickname. It was started by a snooker compere called Richard Beare. We always used to have a laugh and a joke with each other backstage and they were just calling me the ‘Leicester Potter’ but he said we need to come up with a better nickname than that.

I said ‘look, at the end of the day I’m out there just to play snooker, you can call me whatever you like’ so he introduced me as ‘The Jester from Leicester’ and seems to have stuck ever since. People do ask me to make them laugh and I like to have fun, but I am not meant to be some kind of comedian.

Can you successfully defend your title?

Well I’m confident enough, but it will be difficult. To win it one time is hard enough and then to go back there and try and defend it is probably twice as hard.

I’ll have a lot of people gunning for me and trying to take that title off me.

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