After the quarter-finals a majority of fans saw Neil Robertson as a huge favourite for the title. They certainly thought that he would reach the final, considering that he had beaten his opponent, Mark Selby, in the last seven matches they had played. At the MSI, Neil was 3-1 in front, seemingly cruising to victory. Mark Selby however had other ideas…
Selby Ends Losing Streak Against Robertson
Mark Selby reached his first final for 19 months, and ended a long series of defeats against Neil Robertson, with a 6-4 success in the semi-finals of the BetVictor English Open.
Another outstanding match in Brentwood featured three centuries and seven more breaks over 50, and it was Leicester’s Selby who came out on top to set up a final clash with Luca Brecel or Mark Allen on Sunday. First to nine frames will collect the Steve Davis Trophy and a top prize of £80,000.
Robertson had won seven consecutive meetings between these two former World Champions, a sequence stretching back two years. But Selby has now ended that hoodoo, and can look forward to his first final since he won his fourth Crucible crown in May 2021. The 39-year-old has confronted mental health challenges over the past year and had to contend with patchy form, but today showed his best qualities on the baize.
In the opening frame, Robertson made a break of 56 before running out of position. After a safety tussle, Selby converted an excellent long red to a baulk corner and cleared with 54. Robertson hit back with runs of 78, 78 and 141 to lad 3-1.
After the interval, world number three Selby gained momentum, taking three frames in a row with top breaks of 51 and 136, before Robertson bounced back with a 66 for 4-4. In frame nine, Robertson led 29-0 when he lost position in splitting the pack. A tactical exchange was resolved when Selby thumped in a fantastic do-or-die long red, setting him up for a break of 104 to regain the lead. And another marvellous long red from Selby at the start of the tenth initiated a match-winning 85.
“The last few times Neil has beaten me I have played ok, I just haven’t had enough chances to win the match. Today I took virtually every chance from 3-1 down,” said Selby, who has won 20 of his previous 30 ranking finals. “He is the best player in the world at the moment, the standard he is playing is phenomenal, so to beat him you have to be at the top of your game.
“From 3-1 to 3-3, Neil missed a couple, which is probably the first time he has missed a ball against me since the Romans were building the roads. Then from 4-4 I played well in the last two. I have been working hard and playing well in practice. That means nothing unless you are taking it out there to the match table. I have done that this season in patches and got to a few quarter and semi-finals.
“Whoever I play tomorrow, I’ll be out there fighting. Mark Allen has been the player of the season, Luca is a great talent and it’s good to see him in the later stages.
“The biggest challenge I have ever faced has been since January this year, probably for the rest of my life. It’s never going to go away, I need to stay on top of it. Snooker is only a game, as long as you have your health that’s the most important thing. I never realised that before, I would get really down on myself. Now I am getting better.”
Robertson, who has now lost three consecutive semi-finals in this season’s BetVictor Home Nations events, said: “I made a really good break to go 4-4 after sitting on the sidelines without a chance for a while. I went into the pack in the next frame at 29-0 and if that had come off I would have gone 5-4 ahead. In the last two frames I played good safety shots but he knocked in great long reds. I can’t be critical of myself, it’s not like the semi-final in Scotland (against Joe O’Connor) when I lost four or five frames where I was in control.
“Today I didn’t play any sloppy safety shots, both of us played some fantastic stuff. I have never played better then I have over the last few tournaments, you can see that with my scoring, winning frames in one visit. I take it as a great compliment that people are playing so well against me because they know they have to. I am enjoying the brand of snooker I am playing. I’m looking forward to the Christmas break and carrying that form into the Masters.”
It was indeed a quality match, and not one where Mark Selby becomes negative and excessively defensive. Going by his quotes above, his perspective on the game has changed. It shows at the table, and it’s for the better. I wish Mark the best in his quest for happiness and peace of mind. He has nothing to prove to anyone, and he doesn’t need to win every match of snooker “for his father” either. I’m certain that what his father would really want, above everything else, is to see his son happy.
The other semi-final also sprang a surprise as Luca Brecel beat Mark Allen by 6-2. Mark Allen sit pretty on top of the one year list, he’s been the player of the season so far, but he was outplayed for most of the match yesterday evening.
New Mindset Helps Brecel Reach Final
Luca Brecel reached his fourth ranking final within 13 months as he beat player of the season Mark Allen 6-2 in the semi-finals of the BetVictor English Open.
Belgium’s Brecel had described Allen as “unbeatable” before today’s clash, but he dominated from the start, winning the first five frames and closing out the result in frame eight. The 27-year-old will face Mark Selby in Brentwood on Sunday, with first to nine frames to win £80,000 and the Steve Davis Trophy.
Allen has already won the Northern Ireland Open and UK Championship this season but wasn’t able to finish 2022 on the high note of another final appearance. Instead, world number 11 Brecel will be playing in his sixth ranking final, and looking for his fourth title. In December last year he was runner-up in the UK Championship final, and since then he has won the BetVictor Scottish Open and BetVictor Championship League. A fourth ranking title would bring him level with Ali Carter and Ryan Day on the all-time list.
His natural talent has never been in question, and Brecel insists that he is adding a streak of determination to his armoury. He said: “Often when I lose it’s because of focus. I have a problem getting motivated sometimes. After I lost to Fraser Patrick in Scotland last month, I went home and spoke to my parents and I said something needs to change in my mindset. Everything else was good, but I knew I wasn’t giving it everything to win. I have done that this week and it has paid off.”
Brecel dominated the first two frames tonight with a top break of 61, his opponent scoring just 14 points. In frame three, Allen led 27-0 when he overcut a tricky red to a centre pocket. Brecel replied with 55 then laid a tough snooker behind the brown, and from the chance that followed he extended his lead to 3-0.
A run of 50 put Brecel in charge of frame four, and after getting the better of a safety exchange he added 71 to build his lead. After the interval, Brecel made it 5-0 with a break of 89, before Allen finally got a frame on the board with an 89 of his own. In the seventh, Allen made 63 before going in-off, but Brecel’s counter ended on just 8 when he missed a red to centre, allowing his opponent to close to 5-2.
In frame eight, Allen trailed 51-9 when he missed a difficult long red, saw it roll the length of the side cushion and into a baulk corner. But his hopes of prolonging his fightback ended when he missed a tough black to a top corner, as Brecel added the points he needed.
“This is probably the happiest I have been in a long time in snooker,” said Brecel, who has his parents Carlo and Mirella with him this week. “The semis are so big because you really want to get to a final. If you lose in the semis it’s going to hurt for a while.
“At 5-0 I was relaxed, then he came back to 5-2, so then it was tricky. At 5-3 I would have panicked a little bit. But I had to keep calm, and luckily he missed the black after getting the fluke. If I win tomorrow it will be up there with my best achievements because I came here without that much confidence. Mark Selby has got more experience than me and he is a fantastic player, but when I’m feeling good I can beat anyone. I’ll need to play like I did tonight.”
Allen said: “The disappointing thing was my safety. I wasn’t finding the edges as I have been most of the season. I was leaving Luca easy starters. I hung in there to get to 5-2. But credit to Luca because he was much better than me tonight. I came here this week trying something different with my technique. I will think about it over Christmas, to work out whether I stick with it. I wanted to find something extra – even though I am doing well, I still want to do better.”
Luca is incredibly talented and, as strange as this may sound, I believe this is his undoing at times. His break-building is nowhere near as good as the other top players’ break-building. There is no reason why he can’t improve on that, he’s more than capable, but maybe he doesn’t feel the need/motivation to work on it because his potting is scarily good when he’s on form. It would however give him the weapons to beat the other top players when his potting is not at its best, which, inevitably, happens.
Absolutely anything can happen today. Selby could outfox Luca, Luca could out-pot Selby. And everything in between…