Brecel Pulls Off Biggest Comeback In Crucible History To Reach First World Final

Brecel claimed a stunning 17-15 victory over 20-year-old Chinese sensation Jiahui to reach the final
18:30, 29 Apr 2023

Luca Brecel produced the greatest Crucible comeback in history to reach a first World Championship final on Saturday - the first player from mainland Europe to do so.

The 28-year-old Belgian claimed a stunning 17-15 victory over 20-year-old Chinese sensation Si Jiahui in Sheffield – at a venue where until this year he had never even won a match in five attempts.

The world No10 was down, out and all but on his way back home across the Channel when trailing 14-5 to the world No80 and 350-1 title shot Si on Friday evening.

And in one of the great matches it was some miracle combination of inspiration and mounting fragility from Si that conspired to allow the miraculous turnaround.

Helped by a crazy run of 11 frames on the spin to lead 16-14, this was the first time any player had ever come back from nine frames behind to win any match at ant stage at the iconic theatre.

The previous highest deficit overturned was eight frames in perhaps the most famous match of them all – the 1985 black-ball final won by Dennis Taylor against Steve Davis.

In that match Northern Ireland’s Taylor hit back from 8-0 and 9-1 adrift to win 18-17 in the final ball.

Brecel knocked out world No1 and seven-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals – similarly winning the last seven frames to win 13-10 after trailing 10-6.

Brecel, a maverick with whom O’Sullivan identifies, has tattoos of ‘Free Bird’, and ‘La Vida Loca’ on his hands, and claimed before his first match he had practiced only 15 minutes for this event.

And the three-time ranking event winner added to his partying reputation by going on a bender and getting “very drunk” back in Belgium in the build-up to his O’Sullivan match.

There was also drama in trying to get girlfriend Laura Vanoverberghe over in time to see the end of his semi-final. She did not hold a passport and had to get one issued and rushed through.

But her arrival certainly seemed to perk Brecel up in the second half of the biggest match of his life – at least up until that point. One far bigger now awaits for a £500,000 prize.

Brecel said after one of the great Crucible matches, said: “I was feeling bad my girlfriend had made such an effort to get here, and disappointed when it was looking like it was all for nothing.

“But it was fantastic to see her. She calmed me down and said some nice words, telling me to keep fighting.

“When it was 14-14 I said to her in the dressing room that if I won it would be the most emotional and crazy feeling ever. I feared losing with a session to spare. I don’t know how I did it.

“I couldn’t believe it at the end, I was shaking. It means so much, it was such a tough game in such a big tournament. Even at 15-9 it would have been over on Friday night.

“At 14-5 down I said to my dad I am feeling great and sharp. But I had to win those five frames to  have a chance today and I have improved mentally a lot in the last couple of years.

“It was a fantastic game, special to be involved in and to be part of that history.”

Si, who was told ‘You’re a superstar’ by Brecel, said: “Today in the last session my mindset changed, I really wanted to win and so I became more nervous than I had been previously in the tournament.

“The green I missed on Friday night that could have helped me get to 15-9 was unfortunate, my hand was cold and there was a lot of pressure. Thank you to everyone for all the support.

Taylor, commentating for the BBC and passing on the comeback baton, said: "This is the biggest comeback in the history of this Crucible Theatre. What a semi-final these two have given us."

But it was a devastating finale for 20-year-old debutant and qualifier Si, the youngest semi-finalist since Ronnie O’Sullivan 27 years ago.

Brecel, meanwhile, is now confirming all the potential that saw him hailed as a child snooker prodigy. He had beaten Hendry, Jimmy White and Ken Doherty in exhibitions by the time he was 14.

And he also won a ‘Most Promising Talent’ prize at the Belgian Sports Awards as a teenager in 2010 that was won the year before by Chelsea, former Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku.

Hendry probably owes Brecel a drink, though after the Belgian both ensured he still shares the seven world titles record with O’Sullivan, and also keeps the youngest world champion tag.

Selby, into a sixth world final, is homing in on a fifth title that would leave him just two shy of O’Sullivan and Hendry after just holding off player of the season Mark Allen to win their evening semi-final 17-15.

After the pair were hauled off three frames early on Friday afternoon, the first eight yesterday morning were shared, leaving Selby 11-10 ahead. And though the 39-year-old almost blew a 16-10 lead, he finally fell over the line.

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