Our sports editor played a game of snooker with current World Champion Mark Selby ahead of next month’s World Grand Prix

“Trying to make history and breaking records – trying to get Stephen Hendry’s record would be one of my goals, it’s going to be tough.”

It’s not often that you get the chance to play world number one in any sport – let alone the reigning world champion.

And as Mark Selby effortlessly mixed the combination of red and then black on several occasions, it’s safe to say my chances of beating him were zero.

However, I could have told you that after practicing for hours the previous weekend in which – in five frames – I managed to put a red followed by a color just once.

Selby is gearing up for next month’s World Grand Prix which will first take place at the Coventry Building Society Arena – after the stadium has already hosted the Champion of Champions event for several years.

Not that he will count his frame against me as part of his preparations.

And the Leicester jester has reached the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix twice since the tournament was created in 2015, when it was initially an unranked event.

It remains one of the few competitions that has escaped Selby and the Leicester man is determined to add the World Grand Prix title to the illustrious list of honors he has won since turning pro in 1999. .

Selby said: “There are a few tournaments on the calendar that I haven’t been able to win – the Grand Prix being one of them is definitely the one I’m trying to tick off.

“I think every competition is important – some are more important than others – every tournament I participate in I try my best to win it because at the end of your career you want to win as many ranking tournaments as possible .

“The Grand Prix is ​​still the top 32 players on the silver roster this season, so the top 32 players are in better shape.”

The 38-year-old trains at the Atack Snooker Center in Nuneaton – which is just a 15-minute drive from CBS Arena – and reached the semi-finals when he first appeared at the venue in 2013.

And after the Champion of Champions event was moved to Milton Keynes last year – Selby was delighted to see Coventry back on the Snooker calendar this season despite his affection for Sky Blues rivals Leicester City.

He said: “It’s a great place – it’s a shame we lost him for the Champion of Champions but it’s very positive that he’s back for the Grand Prix.

“When we’ve played there over the years I always thought the setup was great – it’s great for me, it’s only 20 minutes down the road – it’s great to have another tournament there.

“Being a Leicester City fan – Coventry is kind of a rival for me. “

After playing fanless for much of last season – due to coronavirus restrictions – Selby was able to celebrate his World Championship success in front of spectators at The Crucible earlier this year.

The tournament was selected as one of the government’s pilot events for the return of sports fans in April and Selby has no doubts about the impact a crowd has on player motivation.

Selby added, “For me, the crowd is everything.

“I think in any sport the crowd makes a huge difference – that’s what you’re looking for – as a young boy, I wanted to try and get professional, play on TV and play in front of big crowds in. great arenas to get that buzz.

“This is what keeps you motivated and keeps you going – if you walk around there and there’s no buzz, after a while you tell yourself I’m not sure you can. keep doing that. “

Despite having already won 20 ranking titles, Selby remains determined to put his name further in the snooker history books and is aiming for Stephen Hendry’s record seven World Snooker Championship wins.

Currently, Selby has four World Championship titles under his belt and is firmly aiming for Hendry’s record, but accepts that it will be a difficult accomplishment to achieve.

He said: “The feeling of winning tournaments and trying to make history and break records [is what drives me].

“Winning the World Cup four times – it would be nice to try to do it again – trying to reach Stephen Hendry’s record would be one of my goals, it’s going to be difficult.

“I still train probably four or five hours a day – I try to have a few days a week alone, then I try to train a few days with other players on the tour.”

Ahead of the World Grand Prix as world number one, Selby admitted that he had previously struggled with the added pressure of being the best player in the world.

However, now in his eighth stint at number one in the table, Selby feels like he has learned from his previous experiences as a player to beat in major tournaments.

He said: “The first time I was world champion and world number one I felt like I was putting a lot more pressure on myself – I went to tournaments thinking I couldn’t. miss a shot.

“Otherwise people would wonder why I won the world championships and why I was world number one – over time you get used to it.

“I’m putting pressure on myself – whether I’m a world champion or not – it’s the only pressure that comes to me.”

As previously mentioned, Selby joined the pro tour in 1999 at the age of 16 and reached his first ranking final at the age of 19 when he was beaten by David Gray at the Scottish Open.

And he won his first ranking final in 2008 when he triumphed over Ronnie O’Sullivan at the Welsh Open, but admitted the tour couldn’t be more difficult for young players today.

He said: “If you are just starting out – the lessons are the main thing to mastering all the basics well – it’s just a matter of putting in hours, you only take out what you put on, be it the snooker.” or any other type of work. .

“For me, I always trained better with players than I did when I was younger to try to improve myself and learn to see what they were doing and learn little things here and there.

“For the young players – I would say just so as not to lose heart – it is difficult and as difficult as it has ever been, there are a lot of great young talents on the circuit.

“They go up against the top 16 players in the first or second round, so it’s tough for them – it’s easy to lose heart and think I’m not good enough and go for it.

“As long as they stick to it and keep working hard, if they’re good enough, they’ll get there.”

Becoming a top player in any sport requires a certain level of dedication and Selby is no different.

The Leicester man admitted that the snooker consumes his thoughts even when not at the table but – following the pandemic – was able to try his hand at another sport in his spare time.

He said: “I used to think about snooker all the time until a few years ago – I didn’t really have any other hobbies outside of snooker – at the end of the season. , I always played a little.

“In the last 18 months I got into golf a bit – I played a lot – it’s one of the few sports you play and you don’t think of anything other than golf. where you are. will hit the ball.

“It doesn’t always go where I want him to go – I’m not the best of players – but I appreciate him, which is good.”

And so – as my frame against Selby drew to a close – there was no doubt as to who had won, I managed to pocket three reds – with great difficulty – while Selby sent all the colors with ease. .

He graciously left me a shot on the black to finish – which I duly potted – only for the cue ball to follow – something you probably won’t see at the World Grand Prix in Coventry next month.

The World Grand Prix takes place December 13-19 at CBS Arena and only the top 32 players on the one-year ranking list will qualify.

Mark Williams and Mark Allen have already reserved their places at the World Grand Prix with Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Judd Trump, O’Sullivan and Selby all in line to qualify as well.

There are only two more events remaining in the race to qualify – the UK Championship and the Scottish Open.

For more details on the event and to purchase tickets, visit: https://wst.tv/tickets/cazoo-world-grand-prix-2021/

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