Mark Selby feels the sturdiness has returned to his game, and while he has not hit top form yet at the Crucible, his battling qualities are back to their best as he bids for a firth world title.
The 39-year-old came to Sheffield as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, given his immense record in Sheffield and thanks to finding form this season by winning the English Open and WST Classic.
He has been good, if not as sparkling as some, so far at the Crucible, beating Matt Selt 10-8 and Gary Wilson 13-7 to set up a blockbuster quarter-final with John Higgins.
While he has not quite shown his brilliant best yet, he is thrilled to be showing his trademark toughness on the table again, which had been diminished in recent months as he focussed on improving his life and health away from the sport.
‘The biggest thing for me at the moment is when I’m being asked the question I am standing up out there,’ he said.
‘That wasn’t happening for six to 12 months so I am pleased with that especially here because you can easily collapse. It doesn’t matter what you’ve achieved here, you can easily crumble.’
Coming through two rounds without hitting his peak is no bad thing for Selby, who is well aware that it is impossible to play your best stuff throughout a Crucible campaign.
‘Whoever wins this tournament, they’re not going to fly every single session,’ he said. ‘They’ll be the best player over the two weeks, but you’ll look back at their matches and there’ll be a session where they’ve not played to the top of their ability, but scrapped it out and come out 4-4 or even 5-3 down.
‘For me, that’s the biggest thing in this tournament. Obviously if you play well, more times than not the top players win the sessions.
‘But if you are struggling, it’s how you come out of the sessions when you are playing bad. If you can limit it to 4-4 or 5-3, that’s the biggest thing for me.
‘Against Gary, in the first two sessions neither of us played at the top of our game and I came out both sessions 5-3 in front, which was amazing.’
Having lifted the trophy four times before, Selby knows more than almost anyone about what it takes to succeed in the sport’s toughest tournament, and he says that knowledge and subsequent belief is a big advantage.
‘It’s a strange tournament, every time I come here it feels as though I’ve never won it. The pressures of the tournament are the same from even before I had won it. You put that pressure on yourself,’ he said.
‘I suppose when you have won it before, you believe in your own mind that there’s no reason you can’t win it again. If you’ve only won it once or seven times, you know you’ve done it and there’s no reason you can’t win it again.
‘I’m always putting that bit of pressure on myself to try to perform, and if anything try too hard at times, which can have the opposite effect.
‘Whatever happens, I just want to walk away from here knowing I’ve given it everything and if it was good enough great, if it’s not I can hold my head high and walk away with a smile on my face.’
Wilson assessed Selby’s performance in their second round clash as not really looking like world title-winning stuff, but expects the Jester to step things up as he progresses.
Asked if Selby looked ready for a fifth world title, the Tyneside Terror said: ‘You never know. Being blunt, not going by that performance, but he knows that.
‘We’ve seen players as good as Mark play to that kind of level in the early rounds and then step it up massively, which he’s well capable of doing.
‘So I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he did. Just by my game there, he was missing quite a few and I couldn’t capitalise. But I’m sure he’ll step his game up in the next few rounds if he gets through.’
After watching Higgins dismantle Kyren Wilson 13-2 in the last round, Selby is aware that a similar performance to that against Gary Wilson will not be enough.
‘I need to play close to my best to get through,’ said Selby.
‘The way John played against Kyren was phenomenal. It wasn’t even as though Kyren really did anything wrong. You know if you are not playing near to your best you are going to be on the losing side so at least you know what you have to do.’
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