Mark Selby: Confidence is fickle but it's always there at the World Championship

Mark Selby begins his campaign for a fourth World Snooker Championship title on Monday with his previously dented confidence renewed.

The 37-year-old has won three of the last six world titles, a monumental achievement that saw him ride high at the top of the world rankings for more than four years.

Nothing lasts forever in snooker, though, and the Jester from Leicester hit an unexpected sticky patch which saw him go over a year without a title after his 2018 China Open win.

His confidence drained away, despite all his previous success, and it wasn’t until he snapped back into form to win this season’s English Open that he felt back to his old self again.

‘It doesn’t matter how much you’ve won, if you go through a spell without winning you lose confidence,’ Selby told ‘It happened to [John] Higgins, and you think, “How can someone with four world titles not be confident?”

‘But it can happen to anyone, confidence only lasts so long and the longer you go without winning it goes away.

‘So winning the English helped get it back. Obviously no one’s really been playing so it’s a weird time now in terms of confidence, but I’ve had a good record in Sheffield, won it three times, beaten in another final, so just going there gives me confidence.

‘Walking into the Crucible gives me a boost and it’ll be the same whether there’s a crowd there or not.’

Selby’s English Open win came with a 9-1 demolition of Dave Gilbert in the final, which Ronnie O’Sullivan praised as likely the best display of the season.

‘I don’t think you’ll see a better performance than that all season,’ O’Sullivan told Eurosport. ‘Someone will have to play an unbelievable game of snooker to better that. He scored heavy, brilliant safety it was clinical.’

Since then, Selby has added the Scottish Open title to his trophy cabinet, becoming the first player to win two Home Nations titles in the same season.

He heads to Sheffield to take on debutant Jordan Brown in round one with confidence in tow, but also wary that this year’s unique Crucible experience provides something of a level playing field for newcomers.

‘I think it’ll help people coming through the qualifiers, there’ll be less pressure on it when you’ve not got a full house,’ Mark continued. ‘Playing people like Judd [Trump] or Ronnie, they always bring a packed crowd and it can be hard for people that aren’t used to it.

‘Even in the qualifiers there have been shocks, [Joe] Perry and [Ali] Carter going out, and that might be because there’s no crowd there. Even in the qualifiers there is still usually a decent crowd because it’s the World Championships, so maybe it’s helped the guys who aren’t used to it.’

Mark’s opinion may well have changed after watching O’Sullivan’s performance against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh on Sunday as the Rocket breezed to a 8-1 lead in the first session, with the lack of crowd seemingly beneficial to the man of vast Crucible experience rather than the qualifier.

The Jester from Leicester and the Rocket find themselves in the same half of the draw this year, so there is no chance of a repeat of their classic 2014 final, but fans would love to see them clash in the final four.

O’Sullivan has not been beyond the World Championship quarter-final since that epic defeat to Selby, which some believe has left a scar on him that has seen him struggle in Sheffield ever since.

Selby is dismissive of that suggestion, but does feel that Ronnie has missed the boat in his quest to win more world titles than anyone else in history. The Rocket has five to his name, two less than Stephen Hendry.

‘If he’d beat me in that 2014 final I think he’d have gone past Hendry’s record by now,’ said Selby. ‘It doesn’t look like he’ll do it now, I don’t think so at 44, still needs two more to tie it.

‘He could definitely win one more, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won it this year, but I can’t see him beating the record now.

‘I think he just likes to get in and get out so the World Championship doesn’t especially suit him. There’s a lot of hanging around, it’s over two weeks, so it’s not what he likes to do.

‘As far as him not getting past the quarter-finals since 2014, I don’t think that’s got anything to do with me beating him, I think it’s just a really hard tournament and there are a lot of good players, the people that beat him deserve the credit.’

Snooker was rocked in the build-up to the World Championship by the tragic death of Willie Thorne, but Selby was hit harder than most as the Leicester men shared a close relationship.

The tragic circumstances of Thorne’s death in Spain during the global pandemic meant little could be done to mark his passing properly, and Selby is keen for something to be done as soon as it is possible.

‘It was really sad,’ said Mark. ‘He was a big influence on my career, him and his brother Malcolm, I might well not be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.

‘I knew he wasn’t well but it was a shock, to go at 66, it’s no age and for no one to be able to go over for his funeral, it was awful.

‘Hopefully there’ll be something put on for him by World Snooker, because he deserves a memorial. He’s been such a big figure in snooker, obviously he had his problems, but everyone does.

‘He was a really funny guy, you couldn’t spend 10 minutes in his company and not be laughing, he was the kind of guy you could talk to for 15 minutes and feel like you’ve known him all your life.

‘It was a shame he had been dropped by the BBC, maybe they wanted a younger crowd in, when Hendry, [Alan] McManus and [Peter] Ebdon started commentating, but for me Willie was still one of the best. He never called a wrong shot and he was really entertaining.’

Selby and his brother-in-law, world champion pool player Gareth Potts, have been raising money for the NHS during the pandemic with a charity raffle that is still ongoing.

‘There are some great prizes,’ he explained. ‘I spoke to Damien Hurst and he reckoned the signed book he’s given us would go for about £3,000.

‘We’ve got some Tyson Fury signed shorts, Jamie Vardy boots that he played in, Gary Lineker script that Rio Ferdinand and Alan Hansen have signed, that was Hansen’s last broadcast, and obviously it’s all for a great cause.’

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