Mark Selby won his first title of the season by beating Mark Allen 10-7 in the final of the OPPO International Championship in Daqing, China.
World number one Selby won the prestigious title for the second consecutive year having beaten Ding Junhui 10-1 in the 2016 final.
This time the Leicester cueman was pushed much harder – especially when Allen came from 8-3 down to 9-7 – but Selby eventually got over the winning line to secure the £150,000 top prize. It’s the 13th ranking title of his career, bringing him level with Ding, joint-sixth on the all-time list.
Selby made a slow start to the current season, suffering a toe injury in June which caused him to miss the early stages of the campaign, and then failing to go beyond the quarter-finals of the next five ranking events.
But – as he does so often – he has risen to the occasion in one of the biggest tournaments on the calendar this week and will go home with the trophy. It’s Selby’s sixth ranking title in the last 16 months, a golden spell which has also seen him win his third World Championship and second UK Championship crowns.
The 34-year-old is now nearly £800,000 ahead of Ding at the top of the world rankings, while Allen’s £75,000 runner-up prize sees him jump from 11th to sixth.
Northern Irishman Allen missed the chance to win his fourth ranking title, but it’s still a welcome return to form for the 31-year-old from Antrim, who had not previously reached a ranking final since winning the Players Championship 20 months ago.
Selby won the opening frame with a break of 67 then Allen levelled with a 110. Runs of 50 and 61 helped put Selby 3-1 up, before Allen pulled one back with a 98. Selby then took control by winning three frames in a row with top breaks of 55, 60 and 61. Allen won the last frame of the opening session with a superb 137 to keep himself in touch at 6-3.
The early exchanges of the evening session went Selby’s way as he won two frames without his opponent scoring a point, making it 8-3. Frame 12 could have gone either way but Allen took it with a yellow-to-pink clearance, and he went on to make 78 in the next to close to 8-5 at the interval.
Selby’s run of 90 put him four up with five to play and he had chances to seal victory in frame 15, but couldn’t take one and his opponent won it on the colours. Allen got the better of a scrappy 16th as well to close to 9-7. But Selby took control of frame 17 with a run of 49 and later got back in to add 19 points to clinch the title.
“The standard of the final was very good,” said Selby. “I knew it would be tough. We both played at the top of our game and I’m happy to be on the winning side.
“Mark never knows when he’s beaten and he has a lot of bottle. It didn’t surprise me when he came back at me. I just had to stay calm and wait for my chance. To defend a big title like this is a great feeling. As long as I keep winning tournaments I can be world number one for a lot longer. The events come thick and fast over the next few weeks and as I’m playing well I prefer that.”
Allen said: “I never gave up, even at 8-3 down. At 9-7 I felt I was back in the match. But I was always hanging on to his coat tails, I missed too many chances and played too many careless safeties, and you can’t do that against the best player in the world. Overall I’m disappointed with the way I played.
“Mark is a so good in every department, he’s a great role-model for our sport and someone we all look up to. He’s just a bit better than everyone else. He’s definitely in the top five players of all-time now, along with Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Steve Davis. I need to go away and work hard and try to get better.”
The result means that Neil Robertson earns the 16th and final spot in the 188BET Champion of Champions which starts on Monday.