Mark Selby was thrilled to clinch his third Betfair Masters title and claim back-to-back major victories after a neck injury left him fearing for his career.
The 29-year-old, winner in 2008 and 2010, claimed a 10-6 victory over defending champion Neil Robertson at Alexandra Palace in London to add the Masters title and the £175,000 first prize to last month’s UK Championship crown.
“It’s just unbelievable at the moment,” Selby said.
“At one stage I didn’t know whether I was going to be playing again and now I’m sitting here after winning the UK Championship in December and the Masters in January.
“The majority of the match I was really happy with the way I played.
“Going into today’s game I knew I had to play a lot better and score better and be a lot more attacking.
“I seemed to do that in the first session, to go 5-1 in front. Neil showed what a class player he is to come back to 5-3.
“Tonight it was the same again, how I started off this morning. I’m really happy.”
In the best-of-19 final, Australian top-seed Robertson responded from 8-3 down by taking three successive frames.
World number one Selby, though, was able to hold off the fightback and see out victory to join five others who had won the tournament three times or more.
The Jester from Leicester joined Cliff Thorburn, Stephen Hendry, Paul Hunter, Steve Davis and Ronnie O’Sullivan, whose presence on semi-final day ignited whispers of him launching a world title defence later this year.
After his £125,000 win in York in December, Selby became the first to win back-to-back majors since Mark Williams 10 years ago.
The midnight finish came after a late night with a 6-5 semi-final defeat of Graeme Dott.
Selby, whose only century break of the tournament came in the third frame of the final, added: “This afternoon I felt great, I felt fresh. Tonight I felt it catching up with me, but thankfully I gave myself a good enough lead to have something to mess about with.
“To come back to 8-6 he was more or less back in the game and the next frame was huge, 8-7 or 9-6 and I managed to nick it and fall over the line, really.”
Selby will now target his first World Championship title at the Crucible in May.
He said: “I’ll go there trying my best to achieve it. There’s a lot of great players out there.
“It’s going to be tough, but it’s still a long way away yet.”
Only three players had successfully defended the Masters title, and Robertson was unable to emulate Thorburn, Hendry and Hunter.
Cambridge-based Robertson made six centuries en route to the final, where his positional play let him down.
“It was always going to be hard to keep up that kind of form,” Robertson said.
“My positional play, which has been fantastic all week, was really, really poor in the first session.
“To come out of it 5-3 I was absolutely over the moon.
“Tonight I was much better, but the run of the ball was a little bit unkind at times.
“At 8-6 I had him a bit in trouble with a safety shot, he fluked a red, with four or five open reds. If the red hadn’t gone in I had a good chance to go 8-7.
“It just wasn’t meant to be today.”