Belgium’s Luca Brecel said European snooker would “explode” after he became the first player from the continental mainland to be crowned world champion.
Brecel withstood a fightback from four-time champion Mark Selby to triumph 18-15 at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre on Monday.
Victory also meant Brecel joined Canadian Cliff Thorburn (1980), the Republic of Ireland’s Ken Doherty (1997) and Australian Neil Robertson (2010) as only the fourth modern-era world champion from outside the United Kingdom.
Having overturned huge deficits to defeat both seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and Si Jiahui in the quarter and semi-final rounds respectively, Brecel held his nerve after Selby had eroded his lead to just one frame.
The 28-year-old Brecel, an outstanding junior talent but a player who had never won a match at the World Championship before this year’s edition, started Monday’s concluding session 15-10 up.
Selby, however, won five of the next six frames as he closed to just 16-15 behind.
But the Englishman then missed a black off its spot and Brecel capitalised to move within a frame of victory at 17-15.
Brecel then demonstrated excellent cue-ball control around the black in a superb match-winning break of 112.
“It’s amazing, I can’t see any more, I don’t know why,” Brecel told the BBC.
“So tough, he (Selby) is the worst opponent to have in a final, he just keeps coming back, he’s such a fighter, when it was 16-15 I didn’t fancy winning at all, I was missing balls by a mile but then I made a good break.”
Asked what his win would mean for European snooker, Brecel replied: “It’s going to explode, I was so nervous because I wanted it to happen for Belgium and Europe and now I can’t wait to see what it brings, I’m so happy I did it.”
Something of a throwback, the crowd-pleasing Brecel’s path to the final was notable for his unconventional approach to match preparation.
“It’s been a crazy week, no practice just partying, it shouldn’t be legal!”, he said.
Selby, who on Sunday became the first player to make a maximum 147 break in a World Championship final, paid tribute to the new champion by saying: “Congratulations to Luca, he’s a great talent and a great lad, a great family. Enjoy the year, you deserve it mate, you played fantastic.
“It was great to make a 147 at the Crucible, never thought I would do it in a final, the atmosphere was amazing and something I will remember for rest of my life.”
The 39-year-old Englishman added: “But it’s not about me today, Luca played fantastic.”
Brecel had previously seen his early 6-2 advantage on Sunday reduced to a slender overnight lead of 9-8.
But Brecel made three hundreds in four frames during a blistering start to Monday’s play to go 13-8 up before heading into the concluding session five frames in front.
Brecel had already proved himself a comeback king on his way to the final.
He won seven straight frames to beat seven-time world champion O’Sullivan, with Brecel then reeling off 11 in a row from 14-5 down to defeat China’s Si 17-15.
All had looked good for Brecel as his impressive potting continued with a break of 67 in the session opener that moved him to within two frames of victory at 16-10.
But renowned match player Selby, who came from 10-4 down to beat John Higgins in the 2017 final, then staged a trademark rally.
The Englishman reduced the deficit with a break of 78 and then won a scrappy 28th frame to cut Brecel’s lead to 16-12.
Selby’s red from distance paved the way for his third century of the final, a break of 122, to leave him just 16-13 behind at the mid-session interval.
His recovery continued as Brecel went nearly an hour without sinking a pot.
But Brecel then showed plenty of nerve, as well as skill, to turn the tide and take the title.
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