Mark Selby insists there is no chance he will ever rest on his snooker laurels while there are titles to win and history to be made.
The 38-year-old from Leicester heads into 2022 as the reigning and four-time world champion, and also the current world No1 in a running battle with Judd Trump. And yet there have been times when doubters and snipers questioned Selby’s right to be ranked up there with some of the greatest players of all time.
Those jibes have centred around a determined approach and style compared to a more cavalier natural fluency exhibited by other leading players such as Ronnie O’Sullivan and Trump.
However, success at this year’s Betfred World Championship put to bed any lingering carping on that front. Beating Shaun Murphy 18-15 at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield not only gave Selby his fourth such triumph, but took his tally in the game’s big three ‘Majors’ to nine.
That leaves him equal with John Higgins, and behind only Ronnie O’Sullivan (20), Stephen Hendry (18) and Steve Davis (15). Trump, admittedly a younger man at 32, only has three to date.
17 of Selby’s 20 ranking event wins have come since 2014, and an exceptional strike-rate in ranking-tournament finals is frightening.
Selby has won 12 of his last 13 such showpieces and even the one he lost – the quickfire format, single-frame Shootout – would be seen by many as an irrelevance. And he admits that he still has to do a double-take at times, looking at the house and lifestyle success has brought him after growing up in tough circumstances with beloved and late father David on a council estate in the east Midlands.
Reflecting on another great year in 2021, Selby said: “It doesn’t get less special winning the World Championship - this one felt just as good. Look, I suppose there will always be something extra about your first one. And particularly because that came with a win against Ronnie in the final.
“It’s the first one and at that precise moment you don’t know if it might also be your last. But every win at the Crucible has been wonderful. It is such a tough tournament to win and tests you as a snooker player in every way to the maximum.
“Hearing that you are world champion for the whole of that next 12 months, it is a great feeling – there isn’t really a better one.
“The big titles and the nine major wins, of course they give you a sense of satisfaction. But I am just not ready to wallow too much in that and reflect on it all.
“I feel very strongly I have a lot more still to give and to win, and a few years left at the top of the game. So I am looking to increase that tally if possible.
“That’s what I am looking to do. And then whether I do or I don’t when I do eventually pack my cue away I will be proud to reflect on what I have achieved . It is already a lot more than what I set out to do, I never thought I would win as much as I have because it is so competitive.
“The feeling of actually winning something significant, and even more so if your friends and family who have lived it day in, day out through tough times are there – there is nothing to top it.
“The flip side, getting beaten all the time on a bad run, is maybe the worst feeling in the world. So if you do win, you must cherish them at the time.
“And that feeling of when you do win, remembering it and using it for motivation, is why you play and strive to get better and work even harder to recapture that feeling.
“There are moments when you do a bit of a double-take of what you have made of yourself and done with your life. For me the memories are there of growing up on a council estate with my father, and there is a big change to where I live now.
“I always like to think that I keep my feet on the ground as a person and haven’t changed too much as a person.
“But I know where and how I grew up, and the difference to that house and the one we are living in now does make you pinch yourself sometimes. And makes you a bit proud.
“One time after winning the worlds I bought myself a car which I always wanted as a young lad, but generally I don’t waste it or fritter it away, but try and keep it safe.
“I am looking to the future and anticipating a time when I might not be doing so well and having some property or whatever to fall back on.”
For many years it has been the accepted wisdom that if anyone was going to match or overhaul Hendry’s total of seven world titles, that it would be O’Sullivan – currently standing on six.
But with Selby eight years younger and now up to four, the Scot himself has openly speculated that the Leicester man might be the bigger danger to his most treasured record.
Selby said: “Stephen Hendry has come out and said that he thinks I am the most likely and maybe the only person to equal or even better his record of seven world titles.
“To try and beat it would be another four world titles – double what I have now and standing only halfway. Even to equal it would be another three, a very tough ask.
“Sitting here now if I won one more world title before I called it a day I would be pretty over the moon with that, because I know how hard it is.
“Then maybe another couple of Triple Crown wins, victories at the UK Championship or the Masters. They are the big titles that everyone remembers and judges you on.
“Players like Judd…he is a great, great player but still has just the three major wins and some people will always bring that up. I am sure by the end of his career he will have got that number right up.
“He is still young and a great – but to be that all-time great like Hendry, O’Sullivan, Higgins, Davis, Williams, you want those major successes.
“Hendry and O’Sullivan look at the majors and Triple Crowns people have won, much as they would in tennis with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.”
*18+ | BeGambleAware