Luca Brecel has bested Mark Selby 18-15 to claim his maiden snooker world title. By doing so, Brecel has become the first person from mainland Europe to win the title and only the fourth from outside of the UK, but what does this victory mean for snooker?
An Unlikely Champion?
Despite his immeasurable talent, having played exhibitions with Ronnie O’Sullivan and Stephen Hendry when he was 13, it was always believed in snooker circles that Luca Brecel was somewhat of an underachiever.
Prior to the 2023 Championships, Brecel had never won a match at the Crucible, let alone a title. His last five outings in Sheffield’s renowned venue had all ended in first round defeats, and heading into 2023, I’m sure his main concern would’ve been picking up his first victory, rather than first title.
It seemed as if Brecel’s demons had returned to haunt him when he squandered a 9-6 lead against Ricky Walden, resulting in a final frame decider at 9-9 (first round matches are played to 10). But Brecel composed himself and put together a break of 84 to take the decider and win his first match at the Crucible.
After overcoming his demons in round 1, Brecel had a daunting task when he faced three-time champion Mark Williams in round 2. Yet again, Brecel would let a sizeable lead slip, this time doing so from 11-8, as Williams levelled the match at 11-11 (second round matches are played to 13).
But after breaks of 84 and 67, Brecel took the remaining frames to narrowly defeat Williams 13-11.
Bullet vs Rocket
Brecel would have his toughest test of the Championship when he came up against Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivan in the quarter finals.
Seven-time champion O’Sullivan was a heavy favourite going into the match and took a 10-6 lead at the end of the days play. It looked to be too much for Brecel, but the ‘Belgian Bullet’ produced an astonishing session of snooker, winning seven frames in a row in 75 minutes to beat O’Sullivan 13-10.
It was the first time O’Sullivan had failed to win a frame in a session at the Crucible since 2006.
Magnanimous in defeat, O’Sullivan stated in an interview afterwards that, “I’ve never seen a talent like that before. No one plays like that, it’s impossible.”
A Clash of Future Stars
Brecel’s remarkable comeback against O’Sullivan put the world on notice that he may be about to fulfil his potential, and mouths certainly began to water when his semi-final was made against the breakthrough star of the tournament, Si Jiahui.
Si, only 20, was the youngest semi-finalist at the Crucible since O’Sullivan in 1996 and had beaten Shaun Murphy, Richard Milkins and Anthony McGill on his way to the semi-finals.
The brand of snooker produced by both meant that this semi-final promised to be a classic, and it did not disappoint.
Si played some remarkable attacking snooker, easily sinking long pots and showing astonishing cue ball control. There was nothing Brecel could do except watch and admire from his seat, as the young man put on a snooker clinic to lead 14-5 in a race to 17.
Brecel was nine frames behind Si, a deficit which had never been overturned in a match at the Crucible, but incredibly won eleven frames in a row to lead 16-14. Si was able to break his duck with a 90 break to make it 16-15, but Brecel closed out the match in the very next frame to complete an extraordinary comeback.
The Best of the Jester
Brecel’s opponent for the final was the four-time champion Mark Selby. Selby had overcome fellow four-time champion John Higgins in the quarter-finals, before getting the better of the tournament favourite Mark Allen in the semis.
An Early Charge for Brecel
Many people predicted that Selby’s slower, more conservative style of snooker might hamper Brecel’s free flowing style. But in his first World Final Brecel looked to be in his element, winning six of the first eight frames to lead 6-2 at the end of session one.
Despite a small comeback from Selby, Brecel managed to reach half of the frames he needed for the title and led the match 9-6.
When Kyren Wilson became the ninth man to make a maximum 147 break at the Crucible, he surely must’ve thought that the £40,000 bonus for a 147 was his.
But in the penultimate frame of session two, Selby became the first player to make a maximum break in World Snooker Final, becoming the tenth player to do so at the crucible.
The significance of this break did not just lie with the extra prize money Selby would collect, it cut Brecel’s lead to 9-7, and after Selby won the final frame of the session, Brecel’s lead stood at 9-8.
Despite Selby’s miraculous 147, Brecel powered on, producing the flamboyant snooker that had won him so many fans over the course of the tournament, winning six of the next eight frames to pull away from Selby once again and take a 15-10 lead.
Brecel won the first frame of the fourth session to extend his lead to six frames, two from the title. But Selby was not done quite yet.
The former champ rattled off five consecutive frames, including a break of 122, to make it a nervy finish for Brecel. With the scores now reading 16-15, people were beginning to wonder if the wheels might have fallen off at the wrong time for Brecel.
But the ‘Bullet’ managed to find something within himself and put together a break of 51 to go within one frame of the title.
The nerves looked to have evaporated when Brecel stepped up to the table at 17-15. After getting the better of Selby in a safety exchange, the Belgian strung together a truly remarkable break of 112 to become the first player from mainland Europe to be crowned snooker World Champion.
Snooker’s in safe hands
With the rise of players like Brecel and Si, it seems that snooker’s future is indeed very bright. Not only will the sport see a huge rise in popularity across Europe because of Brecel’s triumph, but the manner in which both himself and Si play the game will bring in a number of fans from around the World.
The talent and excitement that players like Brecel and Si bring to the sport will only increase the sport’s popularity. It seems that snooker is very much in good hands.