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'I wanted to curl up and waste away'

Ismail Vedat
May 21, 2014
Mark Selby walks Ismail Vedat through his world title-clinching final break

Mark Selby walked into the club he practices at clutching the World Championship trophy and felt like a king. He was showing off the prize that ensured he would one day retire a happy man.

But beneath the euphoria and relief of the player nicknamed The Jester were the scars of a life story in which tough times and drama have seldom been far away; of someone who wanted anything except to keep playing the sport when he was just 16 years old and lost his father, David, to cancer.

"When he did pass away, the first five or six months it was tough. I wasn't practicing," Selby tells ESPN. "I was just turning up at tournaments with no practice and snooker was the last thing on my mind.

"There were times when I just thought that I didn't want to play anymore and just curl up in a ball and just waste away and be with my father."

Selby's world title, which he clinched with a typical against-the-odds performance against Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Crucible on May 5, was a victory for perseverance in every respect.

The death of his dad eventually gave him his sporting motivation but its immediate negative impact was not the only way it contributed to his story of incredible comebacks.

The most glorious comeback

Mark Selby poses with the World Championship trophy © Getty Images
  • Winning the world title couldn't have been further from Mark Selby's mind on the first day of the final when he trailed 3-0 in the blink of an eye and lost eight of the opening 11 frames.
  • "At 8-3 the first day was always going to be tough," he said. "I more or less lost the final on the first day against John Higgins seven years ago, so going into that final against Ronnie, mentally and physically I really didn't have that much left.
  • "But I wasn't just going to roll over and give it to him so I was going to go out there and give it my best.
  • "Winning it still has not really sunk in yet. I don't think it will until the start of the season at the first tournament back when I get called out as world champion."
  • Watch the full interview with Mark Selby here

Selby's mother walked out on him when he was a child and, in 1999 when his father died, he had to leave the council house he shared with his brother and go their separate ways because of a lack of money.

But he had enough support to keep his career on track and it is something he is still grateful for today. "I used my dad as a driving force to go forward and try and do it for him, which is what I turned out to do," Selby, who took up snooker aged eight, adds.

"I had a few good people around me when he died and they were saying 'Look, if your dad was still here the last thing he'd want you to do is stop playing snooker'. He'd have wanted me to carry on and pursue with it and try and win more tournaments."

So that is what Selby did, turning professional two months after his father's passing and battling away for the next 14 years to fulfil his dream.

In keeping with his early days, Selby's journey to the top of the game has not been an entirely smooth ride either.

Notably, there was the serious neck injury he suffered at the China Open two years ago which nearly cut short his time on the circuit. "I woke up one morning and then I went down to the practice table, I physically couldn't get down to play the shot," says Selby, who had to withdraw from the event.

"I didn't know what it was at the time. I had an MRI scan and found out it was a disc bulge in my C5-C6 vertebrae, and I didn't know how serious it was going to be, whether it was going to be career-threatening. At the time I couldn't play.

"Thankfully for me, I managed to see a sports physio through Barry Hearn [the World Snooker chairman]. I can still feel it a little bit in patches when I play in tournaments but nowhere near to the point where I feel it affects me playing-wise, which is great."

But if anything sums up Selby's tale it is the way he plays the game. O'Sullivan nicknamed him The Torturer in his 2013 autobiography because of the number of times he has struggled and fought back to cause his opponent pain.

The moniker came from personal experience. Twice O'Sullivan has been stunned by the newly-crowned world champion, leading 9-6 in the final of the 2010 Masters only for Selby to play his best snooker under pressure to win 10-9; in 2008, Selby won his first ranking title after coming from 8-5 down to beat O'Sullivan 9-8 at the Welsh Open.

Having lost out to O'Sullivan at the Masters earlier this year and to Neil Robertson at the UK Championship last December, Selby was also in danger of ending this season with another major defeat in a final.

But, guess what? After going 8-3 down with a poor performance on the first day and then trailing 10-5, he fought back to win 18-14 and reclaim the world No.1 spot from Robertson.

So Selby takes O'Sullivan's nickname as a back-handed tribute to his resilience. "In a way, obviously it's not a good thing to say about people but also at the same time I take it as a compliment," Selby says.

"I know with him saying that, then I've got something on him. He sort of doesn't fear playing me but he knows every match he plays me he is going to get a tough game and I'm not going to lie down and let him have it his own way.

"To come from somebody like Ronnie, who's probably the greatest player to play our sport, it's a compliment."

Selby's celebrations were a little off-beat, definitely more joker than torturer - in spirit if not in harmony. He swapped his cue for the microphone by joining Iron Maiden Drummer Nicko McBrain on stage for some impromptu karaoke at the after-party.

"It wasn't something that I planned," he chuckled. "I always do a little bit of karaoke, me and the wife [Vikki] go to some places, like to a bar, and if there's a band on she'll sometimes get me up there to sing. Everyone was cheering me on to sing because I won the world championship - it was all good fun."

There is then a happy ending to this chapter, not that Selby has finished with the game, far from it. His story, however, is quickly developing a new narrative. "If I was to finish playing snooker tomorrow then I've got no regrets," he says. "The main tournaments which I wanted to win I've managed to achieve and win them now."

At snooker's annual ceremony awards, Selby was honoured with the Performance of the Year gong for his victory over O'Sullivan. He was also given the Magic Moment of the Year award for producing snooker's 100th 147 maximum break at the UK Championship. And he is set to become a dad, with wife Vikki due to give birth in November.

At the age of 30, Selby has been richly rewarded for refusing to throw in the towel - something his late father would surely have been extremely proud of.

Mark Selby celebrates potting the final black to win the World Championship © Getty Images
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Ismail Vedat is an assistant editor at ESPN. You can follow on Twitter @IsmailVedat

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