Luca Brecel completed the biggest come-back ever to beat Si Jiahui by 17-15 in the first semi-final. He is the first player from mainland Europe to compete in a Crucible Final. Win or lose tomorrow, he’s made history this week and sent WST yet another message that rather than looking at countries like Qatar or Saoudi Arabia, with no snooker culture of history, they should really invest in developing snooker in mainland Europe, starting with reviving the Belgian Open.
Cool-Hand Luca Pulls Off Record Comeback
Luca Brecel became the first player to win a match at the Crucible from nine frames behind as he recovered a 14-5 deficit to beat Si Jiahui 17-15 and reach the final of the Cazoo World Championship.
The previous record comeback had stood for 38 years, since the 1985 final when Dennis Taylor lost the first eight frames but eventually beat Steve Davis 18-17. This time, Si was just three frames from the winning line when his opponent began his epic revival. Brecel won 11 in a row to go 16-14 ahead, and eventually sealed the result at the end of a dramatic 32nd frame.
At the age of just 20, China’s Si came so close to becoming the youngest ever Crucible finalist, and he would also have been the first debutant to reach the final since Terry Griffiths in 1979. The most important moment of the match came at the end of the third session, late on Friday night, when he missed a straight-forward green on the brink of a 15-9 overnight lead. Instead it was 14-10, and Brecel was able to continue his momentum into the concluding session and complete a remarkable turnaround.
The 28-year-old from Belgium had never won a match at the Crucible before this tournament, losing his first five matches at the venue, but is now showing his talent, flair and charisma to a vast global audience. The first player from mainland Europe to go this deep in Sheffield, he will face Mark Selby or Mark Allen over 35 frames on Sunday and Monday. It will be Brecel’s seventh ranking final and he has won three of the previous six, at the 2017 China Championship, 2021 Scottish Open and 2022 Championship League.
Brecel, who has knocked out Ricky Walden, Mark Williams, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Si, is now sure to jump into the top four from his current ranking of tenth, and could go as high as second if he wins the title. He is aiming to become only the fourth non-British winner of snooker’s most famous trophy, after Canada’s Cliff Thorburn, Ireland’s Ken Doherty and Australia’s Neil Robertson.
Brecel took the opening frame today with a break of 80 to leave the score at 14-11. In frame 26, Brecel led 40-26 when he converted an excellent pot on the third-last red to a centre pocket, and he added the points he needed to narrow the gap to just two. A rapid break of 81 from Brecel made it eight in a row as he closed to 14-13. Frame 28 lasted 36 minutes and came down to the colours. Si trailed 53-40 when he played a weak safety on the blue, and Brecel potted it from distance to square the match for the first time since 1-1.
Brecel took control of the 29th frame with a run of 48, then took advantage of a safety error from his opponent to add 31 and take the lead. Si had two scoring chances early in frame 30 but mustered only 10 points, first missing a tricky black, and then a blue off its spot. From the second error, Brecel made a break of 73 to go 16-14 ahead. Si finally ended a losing streak of 11 consecutive frames with a break of 84.
In frame 32, Brecel looked set for victory until he missed a red to a corner pocket on 43. Si replied with 40 before running out of position on the last red, leading to a brief tactical tussle, resolved when Brecel clipped a thin cut into a top corner, and cleared to the blue before bowing his head in elation and relief.
“It was incredible. At 14-5 down I was thinking I could lose with a session to spare,” said Brecel. “To win the last five frames last night was big, especially the last frame when he missed the green which could have made it 15-9. That was a sign for me to keep believing. He wasn’t missing in the first two sessions. Today I was at my best and I got a bit of luck. I was really feeling pressure at 16-15 but I played a good frame.
“I didn’t practise for this tournament because I wanted to come here mentally fresh with no expectations. I could have lost to Ricky Walden in the first round, but I played so well at the end of that game and I have got stronger since then. It has been an incredible journey.
“This is the first time I have had so much attention from people in Belgium. It feels like the whole of the country is texting me! It’s all over the newspapers. I have never seen anything like it.
“I will enjoy the final because I shouldn’t be there. It’s a bonus, there is no pressure on me, unless it’s close at the end. I will play my game and go for my shots. It will be amazing.”
Si, who will jump from 80th to 36th in the rankings, said: “I’m disappointed but my opponent played near perfect snooker for the last two sessions, and my safety wasn’t as good. I have realised I have some flaws in my game and I need to improve. I will go into next season confident and believing I can beat any player.”
That’s a great attitude to have from both players.
Everyone, other than Luca probably was glad to see Si win a frame after losing 11 on the bounce.
Here are some of Ronnie’s thoughts about what happened to Si out there (reported by Phil Haigh)
Speaking when the score was at 14-14, O’Sullivan told Eurosport: ‘He’s been scoring heavily all tournament and for some reason something’s not working.
‘He’s had chances. I don’t know, it’s weird. The Crucible can do that to you. It can really tighten the arm up. Once the arm tightens up you can’t think more than two balls. It’s a nightmare.
‘I think that’s what’s happened to him. He’s totally frozen, can’t get his cue arm through. Pressure out there at the Crucible can do that to you.
‘It’s ok once, if it happens to you, but if you start making a habit of it you can’t win this tournament, because someone’s going to ask those questions at some point.
‘If you can’t get your cue through, if you’re going to get stage fright…it’s what the Crucible can do to you, I’ve had it before, it happens to all the players out there. It’s horrible to watch but that’s what the Crucible does to you.’
O’Sullivan was glad to see him show that quality and not sink to an even more morale-sapping loss.
‘I’m pleased that Si got his action back towards the end and finished on a high,’ he said. ‘It would have been horrible if he’d lost all those frames on the trot and not made a break in the last 10 frames.
‘At least he got over that, put up a fight and Luca had to win it, and he won it well.
‘Hopefully Si will learn from that, just Crucible nerves, next time in that situation just be patient and get out of it quicker.’
In the evening, there was a possibility of a very, very late finish but somehow Allen went missing at the start of the session and Selby turned the screw … as he does. Allen fought back but it was too much to do, too late.
Selby Into Sixth Crucible Final
Mark Selby is just one match away from becoming the fourth player to conquer the Crucible five times, having survived a Mark Allen fight-back to win 17-15 in their Cazoo World Championship semi-final.
After Luca Brecel’s epic recovery earlier in the day, another turnaround looked possible when Selby’s 16-10 lead was reduced to 16-15 by gutsy Allen. But Selby’s rare capacity to thrive when the pressure is cranked up in the Crucible cauldron was evident again as he won the 32nd frame, punching the air in celebration as the last balls went down at 12.45am.
Leicester’s 39-year-old Selby, who lifted the trophy in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2021, goes through to face Brecel over 35 frames on Sunday and Monday. A fifth world title would move Selby ahead of John Higgins, and within striking distance of Steve Davis (six), Stephen Hendry (seven) and Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven).
The only final he has lost was back in 2007 when he was beaten by Higgins. Given his superior experience, determination and exceptional all-round game, Selby will start strong favourite against Brecel, who will be playing in his first Crucible final and aiming for a maiden Triple Crown success.
Most Crucible finals
Stephen Hendry 9
Steve Davis, John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan 8
Jimmy White and Mark Selby 6
World number two Selby will be playing in his 33rd ranking final – victory would give him a 23rd title and third of the season having landed the English Open and WST Classic.
The result ends Allen’s hopes of taking over as world number one; he would have taken that position from Ronnie O’Sullivan if the result had gone his way tonight. He was playing in the semi-finals in Sheffield for only the second time, and first since 2009 when he lost to John Higgins. The Northern Irishman’s ambition to win the title will have to wait another year, but he can reflect on a career-best season which has seen him win three ranking titles and re-establish himself as a real force.
Selby took the first frame of the evening session to lead 12-10. Allen might have snatched frame 23 from 38 points behind had he not missed the penultimate red to a centre pocket, presenting Selby with the chance to stretch his advantage. The Jester dominated the next three with breaks of 64, 57 and 103 (his ninth century of the tournament) to lead 16-10.
Runs of 43 and 39 helped Allen pull one back, and in frame 28 he laid a snooker on the last red, and took the chance that followed to narrow the gap to 16-12. The fight-back continued as Allen secured the 29th with a double on the penultimate red. Selby was just four pots from the winning line in frame 30 when he missed a mid-range brown to a baulk corner, and his opponent capitalised to close to 16-14. Both players missed chances in a nervy 31st, Selby narrowly failing to convert the last red from distance, and Allen cleared to make it five frames in a row.
Early in the 32nd, Allen went for a long red and missed his target, and Selby made an excellent 64 before running out of position. He was soon back among the balls and added 28 for victory.
“Every credit to Mark to come back at me from 16-10 down,” said Selby, whose route to the final has taken him past Matthew Selt, Gary Wilson, John Higgins and Allen. “Neither of us played great, but he found some form at the end. If it had gone 16-16 then anything could have happened. The Crucible is such a special place. When you are out there you are twitching all over the place, no other venue seems to do that to you. There is so much at stake. I will be out there trying my hardest in the final and hopefully that will be enough. Otherwise, it will be incredible for Luca and great for snooker if he wins it.”
Allen said: “I’m disappointed that I didn’t have my best stuff for most of the match. I was enjoying it out there and I could have been there all night, which shows that my fitness has improved and that’s something I will keep working on. There are a lot of positives to take from the season, I have won three titles and had a few other finals and semis, and that’s without playing my best in a lot of those events. I have ticked a box here by reaching the semi-finals, but at the moment I’m frustrated not to have played better.”
Mark Selby will go into this match as a massive favourite of course. He’s been there and done it four times. Luca Brecel hadn’t won a match at the Crucible before this year. Luca won’t beat Selby at Selby’s game. He will know that, he will need to attack. It may not work but it’s his only chance as trying to defend against an opponent like Mark will definitely not work.