9th Dec, 2021

Our Sports Editor played a frame of snooker with current World Champion Mark Selby ahead of next month's World Grand Prix

“Trying to create history and break records – to try and get to Stephen Hendry’s record would be one of my goals, it’s going to be difficult.”

 

It is not often you get the chance to play the World Number One in any sport – let alone the reigning World Champion.

 

And as Mark Selby effortlessly potted the combination of red then black several times – it is safe to say my chances of beating him were nil.

 

Although, I could have told you that after practicing for hours the previous weekend in which – over the course of five frames – I managed to pot a red followed by a colour just once.

 

Selby is preparing for next month’s World Grand Prix which takes place at the Coventry Building Society Arena for the first time – after the stadium previously hosted the Champion of Champions event for several years.

 

Not that he will count his frame against me as part of his preparations.

 

And the Jester from Leicester has twice reached the semi-finals at the World Grand Prix since the tournament’s inception in 2015 when it was initially a non-ranking event.

 

It remains one of the few competitions that has eluded Selby and the Leicester man is determined to add the World Grand Prix title to the illustrious list of honours he has won since he turned professional back in 1999.

 

Selby said: “There’s a few tournaments on the calendar which I’ve not been able to win – the Grand Prix being one of them is definitely one I’m trying to tick off.

 

“I think every competition is important – some are bigger than others – every tournament I go into, I try my best to win it because at the end of your career you want to win as many ranking tournaments as possible.

 

“The Grand Prix is always the top 32 players on the money list that season so it’s the top 32 players that are on the best form.”

 

The 38-year-old trains at Atack Snooker Centre in Nuneaton – which is just a 15-minute drive away from the CBS Arena – and reached the semi-finals in his first appearance at the venue back in 2013.

 

And after the Champion of Champions event was moved to Milton Keynes last year – Selby was delighted to see Coventry back on the Snooker calendar this season despite his affection for the Sky Blues rivals Leicester City.

 

He said: “It’s a great venue – it’s a shame we’ve lost it for the Champion of Champions but a great positive that it’s back there for the Grand Prix.

 

“When we’ve played there over the years, I’ve always thought the set-up has been great – it’s ideal for me, it’s only 20 minutes down the road – it’s great to have another tournament back there.

 

“Being a Leicester City fan – Coventry are sort of rivals to me.”

 

After playing without fans for much of last season – due to coronavirus restrictions – Selby was able to celebrate his World Championship success in front of spectators at The Crucible earlier this year.

 

The tournament was selected as one of the government’s pilot events for the return of sports fans in April and Selby is in no doubt as to the impact a crowd has on players’ motivation.

 

Selby added: “For me the crowd is everything.

 

“I think in any sport the crowd makes a massive difference – that’s what you strive for – as a young lad I wanted to try and turn professional, play on TV and play in front of big crowds at big arena’s to get that buzz.

 

“That’s what keeps you motivated and keeps you going – if you’re walking out there and there’s no buzz, after a while you think to yourself I’m not sure if I can keep doing this.”

 

Despite having already won 20 ranking titles – Selby remains determined to further inscribe his name in snooker’s history books and has his sights set on Stephen Hendry’s World Snooker Championship record of seven victories.

 

Currently, Selby has four World Championship titles to his name and has his sights firmly set on Hendry’s record but accepts it will be a difficult accomplishment to achieve.

 

He said: “The feeling of winning tournaments and trying to create history and break records [is what drives me].

 

“Winning the World’s four times – it would be nice to try and do that again – to try and get to Stephen Hendry’s record would be one of my goals, it’s going to be difficult.

 

“I always practice for probably four or five hours a day – I try have a few days a week on my own and then try and get a few days practice with other players on the tour as well.”

 

Heading into the World Grand Prix as World Number One – Selby admitted that he previously struggled with the added pressure that being the world’s best player brings with it.

 

However, now in his eighth stint at number one in the rankings – Selby feels he has learned from his previous experiences of being the player to beat in major tournaments.

 

He said: “The first time I was World Champion and World Number One I felt like I put a lot more pressure on myself – I went into tournaments thinking that I couldn’t miss a shot.

 

“Otherwise people would question why I had won the World’s and why I was World Number One – over time you get used to that.

 

“I put pressure on myself – whether I’m World champion or not – that’s the only pressure that comes on me.”

 

As previously mentioned, Selby joined the professional tour in 1999 aged 16 and reached his first ranking final as a 19-year-old when he was beaten by David Gray in the Scottish Open.

 

And he would go on to win his first ranking final in 2008 when he triumphed against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Welsh Open but admitted the tour could not be tougher for young players in the present day.

 

He said: “If you’re starting out – lessons are the main thing to get all the basics right – it’s just a matter of putting the hours in, you only get out what you put in, whether it’s snooker or any kind of job.

 

“For me, I was always practicing with players better than me when I was younger to try and improve and learn to see what they were doing and pick up little things here and there.

 

“For the younger players – I’d say just to not lose heart – it’s difficult and as tough as it has ever been, there’s a lot of great young talents on the tour.

 

“They’re coming up against the top 16 players in the first round or second round so it’s difficult for them – it’s easy to lose heart and think I’m not good enough and jack it in.

 

“As long as they stick to it and keep putting the hard work in, if they’re good enough, they’ll get there.”

 

Becoming a top player in any sport requires a certain level of dedication and Selby is no different.

 

The Leicester man admitted that snooker used to consume his thoughts even when not at the table but – in the wake of the pandemic – was able to try his hand at another sport in his spare time.

 

He said: “I used to think about snooker all the time up until a couple of years ago – I didn’t really have any other hobbies outside of snooker – when the season finished I was always playing a little bit.

 

“During the last 18 months, I’ve got into golf a little bit – I’ve been playing a lot of that – it’s one of the few sports that you play and you don’t think about anything else other than where you’re going to hit the ball.

 

“It doesn’t always go where I want it to go – I’m not the best players – but I’m enjoying it which is good.”

 

And so – as my frame against Selby came to a close – there was no doubt as to who had won, I managed to pot three reds – with great difficulty – whilst Selby casually dispatched all of the colours with ease.

 

He graciously left me with a shot at the black to finish – which I duly potted – only for the cue ball to follow suit – something you are not likely to see at the World Grand Prix in Coventry next month.

 

The World Grand Prix runs from December 13th to December 19th at the CBS Arena and only the top 32 players on the one-year ranking list will qualify.

 

Mark Williams and Mark Allen have already booked their place at the World Grand Prix with Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Judd Trump, O’Sullivan and Selby all in-line to qualify as well.

 

There are just two remaining events that count in the race to qualify – the UK Championship and Scottish Open.

 

For more details about the event and to purchase tickets visit: https://wst.tv/tickets/cazoo-world-grand-prix-2021/

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