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The Week
The Week
The Week Staff

Luca Brecel: Belgian ‘hell-raiser’ triumphs at the Crucible

The 28-year-old beat Mark Selby 18-15 to win his first World Snooker Championship title

When Luca Brecel first appeared at the World Snooker Championship 11 years ago, as an extravagantly talented 17-year-old, he made a bold prediction, said Aaron Bower in The Guardian. By the age of 19, the Belgian said, he would be crowned world champion. The prophecy didn’t materialise: until three weeks ago, Brecel had suffered first-round defeats in each of his five appearances at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. Yet on Monday, the boy from Dilsen-Stokkem, who first picked up a cue at the age of nine, finally made good on his promise. In an enthralling final, he survived a “nerve-shredding” fightback from “snooker’s granite-like grandmaster”, Mark Selby, to prevail 18-15. Brecel is the first world champion from mainland Europe, and – at 28 – the youngest winner at the Crucible since Shaun Murphy in 2005. 

Brecel’s victory could be highly “significant” for the sport he plays, said David Coverdale in the Daily Mail. A “throwback to snooker’s heyday of hell-raisers”, the Belgian “pots spectacular shots and compiles breaks in the blink of an eye”. With such a thrilling style, he is likely to “pull in the punters for years”. And away from the baize, he has a similarly carefree personality: he revealed that he’d prepared for his time in Sheffield by “partying, playing FIFA and playing darts” – and had even returned to Belgium mid-tournament to get “as drunk as hell”. The strategy came close to backfiring, said Elgan Alderman in The Times. Brecel’s passage to the final was anything but straightforward: after winning his opening match by a single frame, he recovered from a 10-6 deficit against Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarter-finals, and trailed Si Jiahui 14-5 in the semi-finals before reeling off 11 frames in a row for the “largest comeback in Crucible history”. As he acknowledged after beating Selby: “I could have been out against every opponent.”

Perhaps precisely because Brecel had “stared down the barrel of defeat” so often, in the final there were no signs of the nerves that dogged him in his “younger years”, said Jeremy Wilson in The Daily Telegraph. On Sunday, he opened up a 6-2 lead, before Selby pegged him back in the evening session, scoring a maximum 147 as he narrowed the deficit to 9-8. The next afternoon, Brecel was again in “majestic” form, hitting breaks of 113, 101 and 141. When he went 16-10 up, the match looked as good as over. But at this point Selby mounted a “stirring comeback”, reeling off five frames without Brecel potting a single ball. The Englishman’s momentum appeared irresistible, but Brecel gathered himself just in time – and wrote himself into “snooker folklore” by clinching the match with a “nerveless” 112. “It’s surreal – it feels like a dream,” he said. “Whatever happens now I can say ‘I’m a world champion’.”

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