Mark Selby interview: 'I don't bottle it, that's why I've spent 100 weeks at number one'
Mark Selby aims to complete snooker's 'Selby Slam' by adding the Masters to his world and UK titles, and tells Desmond Kane he is in a buoyant mood after spending 100 weeks as the sport's undisputed world number one.
World champion Mark Selby comes on to the pitch during Leicester's match with Everton to parade the UK Championship trophy.
Published 18/01/2017 at 07:19 GMT | Updated 18/01/2017 at 13:00 GMT
Mark Selby has a swimming pool at his house, but can't swim. Yet he is hardly sinking. At times, it feels like snooker's world champion can walk on water.
In a sport where the accepted narrative suggests one player can’t dominate, Selby is dominant.
The game's world number one and world champion is also the UK champion. By Sunday evening, he could be a four-times Masters winner and hold every major honour in the sport. An astonishing feat even by his own pristine standards.
The passionate Leicester City fan became world number one by usurping Shaun Murphy 9-7 to carry off the German Masters in Berlin two years ago, and hasn't looked back. It is a position he has yet to relinquish 100 weeks on.
Not quite the Stephen Hendry hot streak of 418 weeks at number one in the 1990s or the Steve Davis 80s dynasty of 365 weeks, but not bad going in what is widely viewed as the sport’s most competitive era, where blokes in bow ties apparently lurk around every corner only too willing to cut your throat.
Selby, 33, faces another two-time world champion Mark Williams in his opening match at the Masters on Wednesday, a challenge he describes "as tough as they come".
There are no ranking points on offer at the Masters, the sport’s most prestigious invitational event, but success here would surely endorse his standing as the game’s outstanding player. Selby is aware that his achievements should not be understated.
“It is unbelievable to be world number one for 100 weeks, especially with the format and the structure of the rankings,” he said. “It can fluctuate so much these days with the prize money contributing to your ranking.
To stay up there for that length of time is a fantastic achievement. Because it is on a prize money basis, you are rewarded for consistency. If you get to semi-finals or final you are picking up decent money. I think I’ve won at least one tournament over the past four or five years, and knocked on the doors at others.
“Last year was the best year I’ve had in winning three tournaments. It has been a great run.
Ranking and titles are equally important. I want to stay at number one for as long as possible. It would be great to continue that for as long as I can.
He is well out in front as number one, around £477,000 clear of second-placed Stuart Bingham. It is not difficult to see why, with hours devoted to his calling in life since his formative years hardly the sign of a misspent youth.
Selby has lifted the world title in 2014 and 2016, and the UK Championship in 2012 and 2016. The Masters has adorned the Selby sideboard in 2008, 2010 and 2013.
Mark Selby after winning the Masters (AFP)
Image credit: AFP
He has amassed around £1.19m in prize money over the past two-and-a-half seasons in a career haul of £3.9m since becoming the youngest player to turn professional at the age of 16 in 1999.
Selby has a swimming pool at his Leicestershire pile. For a bloke who says he swims depths rather than lengths, it is more for daughter Sofia Maria and wife Vicky.
“The prize money is great until the taxman sees it,” admits the man dubbed ‘The Jester’ from Leicester. “I play snooker to try to win titles, and if you are doing that, the money comes with it.
“When I started out as a professional in 1999, I’d be lying to say I didn't play for money because obviously you can’t carry on playing without money.
“Once you start winning a few events and invest the money wisely, you can set yourself on the way. That’s what I’ve done over the past few years by winning a few big tournaments.
I’ve got a swimming pool at home and I can’t swim. I’m not really one to splash out, so hopefully I can win a few more, and I don’t need to worry about getting a job after snooker.
Selby has been involved in some taut jousts with Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Masters. He came from 9-6 behind to win 10-9 at Wembley Arena in 2010, and has recently proved the equal of the game's great entertainer in their final confrontations, particularly in the 2014 World Championship final when he recovered from trailing 10-5 to complete an 18-14 win, and memorably in the UK final last month when he fended off an O’Sullivan rally from 7-2 to 8-7 before closing out a 10-7 success.
Once described as 'The Torturer' by O'Sullivan and ridiculously compared by him to Cliff 'The Grinder' Thorburn, he is suddenly viewed as a "good lad" by the five-times world champion.
Selby is more comparable to Steve Davis in his pomp when he was a winning machine. It is nice for him to hear plaudits, but like Davis does not see snooker as a popularity contest.
I’ve won everything I’d like to have won in the game. Now I’ve won that, I’d like to try to repeat that.
Selby has a lasting memorial of his success of his first world title at the Crucible. He liked the table so much he took it home with him. It cost him around £4,500 to install.
“We had an extension built at the house not so long ago, and I had the snooker table put in," he admits. "I still play on it quite a lot while I’m there. You can be at home, and practise at home which is nice.
“I think it all boils down to how dedicated you are. I’ve spoken to a few players who have had tables put in their house, and they say the novelty wears off after four or five months, and you aren’t practising enough.
“But I’d like to think I’m still as dedicated as I was years ago, and still want to work hard to try to win more. I don't think anybody fears anybody in snooker these days with the standard being so high, and the fact you are facing different players all the time.
O'Sullivan on Selby's Crucible victory: 'Like a surgeon going to work'
“Beating Ronnie in the 2014 final gave me belief, but it also gave me respect from guys like O’Sullivan.
Now when he plays me in the final he knows that I’m not going to give in when I’m behind, or when I go in front I’m not going to bottle it which I’ve proved more times than not.
Selby believes there is room for the inclusion of another Masters-style event involving the game's elite at the Irish venue of Goffs in Country Kildare. He already has an idea of what it should be called, who should be involved and why it would be a guaranteed success.
“I think there should be at least one more tournament like this," he said. "We went to Goffs in Ireland a few weeks ago to play an exhibition tournament, and the venue is one of the best I’ve played in.
“To not have a tournament in a place like that is a bit poor. Who knows? You could probably have an event called the Irish Masters. Have the top eight in the world, four wildcards and some Irish input. It could work."
Image credit: Eurosport
Selby is a regular at Leicester City where he takes great delight in bringing home his bounty. Appearing with his latest trophies to show off to fellow Foxes is becoming a ritual. He paraded his world title at the King Power Stadium in May and his UK Championship last month.
What would he give to take the Masters to Claudio Ranieri's Premier League champions?
It would be nice, but they are probably getting a bit bored of me doing that. They’ll probably want me to lose so I don’t go around the pitch.
While Leicester have struggled to repeat the astonishing level of consistency that brought them a first Premier League title as 5,000-1 outsiders last May, for Selby there are no such problems.
He is on top of the world, and is already on top of London with the Alexandra Palace high up on a hill looking out over the capital.
Mark Selby has made it to the top of the hill despite popular wisdom suggesting otherwise. It could be some time before he begins his descent.