Mark Selby avoided – for now – falling victim to the Curse of the Crucible as he beat Kurt Maflin 10-9 in a dramatic finish at the Betfred World Championship.
No first time winner has ever successfully defended the title the following year, and Selby was in danger of a shock exit on the opening night of the tournament when he lost five frames in a row to trail 9-8.
But Maflin, making his Crucible debut, failed to take chances to score the biggest win of his life and world number one Selby scraped into the last 16. He’ll be back on Thursday afternoon to play Stephen Maguire or Anthony McGill.
“Every credit to Kurt because he played great and stood up to the pressure on his first time here,” said Leicester’s Selby, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final last year. “From 8-5 he took the game to me. At any other venue he probably would have won.
At 9-8 down I was preparing my losing speech. But towards the end I knew he was feeling it, and I felt that if I could regroup and get myself together then I had a chance.
“There have been so many great names who have failed to defend the title at the first attempt. It’s the toughest tournament to win, regardless of whether I won it last year.”
Selby led 6-3 after the first session and extended his advantage to 8-4, making a break of 124 in frame 12.
Norway-based Maflin took the next with a run of 62 and added frame 14 after gaining 30 points in fouls when he trapped Selby in a tough snooker. Frame 15 saw Maflin knock in a long pot on the third-last red and clear with 51 to close the gap to 8-7. And he dominated a scrappy 16th to level the contest.
Frame 17 came down to the colours, and Maflin laid a snooker on the yellow to set up a frame-winning clearance which included a superb pot on the green along a side cushion.
Maflin had a match-winning chance in the next but could only make 25 before running out of position. Selby replied with 47 then played safe on the last red, and after his opponent missed a long pot, he added the points needed for 9-9.
Another chance came Maflin’s way in the decider but he missed a red to a top corner. Selby made a composed 43, then sealed victory by potting the third last red, punching the air in delight.
China Open semi-finalist Maflin said: “I had a chance but didn’t take it, so Mark deserved to win. He’s so tough to beat. I was calm all day and felt good even at 6-3 down. Maybe I got a bit tired at the end.”
Meanwhile, 2006 World Champion Graeme Dott edged 5-4 up on Ricky Walden in a match which finishes on Sunday afternoon.
Walden led 3-1 after breaks of 87 and tournament-high 135, and he looked set to go further ahead until he missed a pink on 58 in frame five. Dott hit back to take that with an excellent 35 clearance and he went on to take the next two frames with top runs of 48 and 72.
Walden’s 44 clearance saw him level at 4-4 but Dott made a 65 in the next to ensure an overnight lead.