SHEFFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM (AFP) - Mark Selby denied Asia its first snooker world champion by beating China's Ding Junhui 18-14 in the World Championship final on Monday. It was the second time in three years that the Englishman had won snooker's most important prize.
Selby was ahead throughout in the final at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre but Monday's concluding session saw Ding, who bases himself in the northern English city for much of the snooker season, close the gap to 16-14 before the 2014 champion prevailed.
"I had a very bad start 6-0 down, I couldn't win a frame. I was a bit nervous as I hadn't been in a (World Championship) final before," the 29-year-old Ding, who had to come through qualifying in order to reach the main draw of this year's edition after dropping out of snooker's top 16, told the BBC.
Tipped to be a world champion ever since winning the UK Championship, snooker's second-most important tournament as a teenager in 2005, Ding said he hoped Monday's display would act as a springboard to eventual world title success.
"Five years ago I was in the semi-final and this year was one step up, so maybe next year I'm going to win it," said Ding after a defeat that left Canada's Cliff Thorburn (1980), the Republic of Ireland's Ken Doherty (1997) and Australia's Neil Robertson (2010) as the only non-British winners of the World Championship since the modern era tournament started in 1969.
Meanwhile a delighted Selby added: "It was a tough final and with the amount of pressure Ding is under, from China alone but to play like that. I can't imagine how he could do that.
"In the first to 18, a 6-0 lead is not a huge one, especially against someone like Ding.
"He played fantastically earlier today and I had to just hang on to him...I saved my best performance for the final and I only had two good sessions in the tournament. Luckily my 'B' game is pretty good."
Victory ensured a double sporting triumph for world number one Selby's home town of Leicester in the English Midlands on Monday.
Minutes before he completed his victory, Leicester City were crowned English Premier League football champions after nearest pursuers Tottenham Hotspur could only manage a 2-2 draw away to Chelsea.
"To be Premier League champions is a fantastic achievement and I want to say well done to (manager) Claudio (Ranieri) and the boys," said Selby.
Ding, 7-10 behind overnight, won Monday's 50-minute opening frame before taking the next on the black to cut Selby's lead to 11-10.
However, Selby won three of the next four frames to stay in front with a handy lead. The pair then exchanged centuries to leave Selby narrowly ahead. Breaks of 52 and 68 then assured Selby would lead going into the concluding session. Ding pulled one back to close to within two before Selby ended the session with a break of 55.
Selby then took the first two frames of the evening session to go 16-11 in front thanks to contributions of 55 and 46. Ding had a chance to close the gap in the next at 60-31 up but
Selby doubled a red into the middle pocket and then, with the scores level at 60-60, produced a superb thin cut on the last black. However, Ding then produced a well-complied break of 73, although that still left him 12-16 behind. But the resilient Ding then cut the deficit even further with a break of 70 before a superb contribution of 103, where he several times produced brilliant recovery shots, meant he'd won three frames in a row and stopped Selby potting a ball for nearly an hour.
Now Ding was just two frames behind at 14-16. The next frame lasted nearly an hour but Selby won it 59-11 before a break of 74 in the 32nd completed his march to the title.