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World Snooker Championship: Mark Selby considered not defending title because of mental health struggles

Venue: Crucible Theatre, Sheffield Dates: 16 April-2 May
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV and Red Button with uninterrupted coverage on BBC iPlayer, the BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport app

Mark Selby admits he considered not defending his World title because of his ongoing battle with mental health issues – and said winning in Sheffield would be his greatest achievement.

Selby, 38, begins his campaign for a fifth Crucible crown on Saturday against Welsh qualifier Jamie Jones.

In January, the Leicester player opened up publicly about his struggles with mental health saying he “needs help”.

However, he decided to compete after seeing “a little bit of improvement”.

Selby comes into the 17-day tournament without playing a competitive match since 2 March, when he was beaten in the last 64 of the Welsh Open by Liam Highfield, and he subsequently withdrew from the Turkish Masters and Gibraltar Open.

Instead of ramping up his preparations for snooker’s showpiece event, Selby instead took a holiday to Dubai with his family.

After a heavy defeat by Barry Hawkins at the Masters in London, Selby admitted a “huge weight” has been lifted off his shoulders after revealing his struggles with his mental health.

“Up to a few months ago, I was [considering not playing],” said world number two Selby.

“When I decided to pull out of the other two tournaments, I didn’t pull out of the Worlds because you didn’t need to let them know at that particular time.

“I wasn’t even thinking of playing in this, I thought I would just give the next few weeks, see how that goes with the doctor and if I feel a bit better I will come and play because it would be a shame not to come here as defending champion and try to play.

“Even if you are just out there and don’t perform, at least you can say you’ve been here and tried to defend it. I was thinking about it, but as the weeks have gone on I have seen a little bit of improvement in myself so we will give it a go.”

Selby has won a total of 20 ranking titles and, asked if winning the title would be his greatest achievement, he replied: “Possibly yeah, for sure, because the game is tough enough anyway.

“To be here for two weeks is mentally and physically quite draining. It is going to be a challenge for me but a challenge I am willing to try and take on and we will see what happens.”

I sometimes wish I’d have done something else – O’Sullivan

Six-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan returned to the top of the world rankings prior to the tournament and is aiming to equal Stephen Hendry’s haul of seven Crucible titles in Sheffield.

But the Rocket faces a tough first round match against dangerous qualifier David Gilbert and has sympathy for Selby having struggled with mental health issues himself.

O’Sullivan said: “Be careful if you want to take this game up, because you’re letting yourself in for a lot of disappointment, loneliness, a lot of dedication, a lot of playing in an environment when you don’t talk to each other.

“When you roll all that together you have to ask, is it really healthy? So before you undertake something like that you need to have a plan in place to reserve your own sanity.

“I sometimes wish I’d have done something else, but no matter what you do is going to be hard. If you want to be the best hairdresser in the world I am sure there are going to highs and lows with it, and you look at the rewards and ask if its going to be worth it?

“I’d rather have gone through the stresses and pains of being a golfer or a F1 or rally driver or a footballer in a team sport because nothing’s easy, so if nothing’s easy you at least think where’s the benefits?

“If I’ve got to go through all this stress and pain I can at least look back it and say that softened the blow. “

No regrets this year – Robertson

Meanwhile, Australia’s Neil Robertson comes into the tournament as favourite as the form player of the season, winning four titles including the Masters and being a beaten finalist in another.

But his record at the World Championship is surprisingly poor since lifting the trophy in 2010, reaching just one semi-final eight years ago.

“Terrible, it is awful. Shocking,” Robertson told BBC Sport.

“There have been a couple unlucky quarter-finals where it has gone super close and then there have been times where I have been in a good position and taken my foot off the gas, in particular the last few years.

“This season I have been good at keeping the foot down and winning matches really well and also coming back in matches and winning.”

Robertson, who kicks off his title quest against debutant Ashley Hugill, added: “I have to accept I am not the best safety player like John Higgins or Mark Selby, but my best strength is the attacking play, get the balls in the open and making big breaks.

“The last few years I have got beaten here, I have thought I wish I played more my game. The worst thing in sport is not the winning or losing, it is the regrets. This year there won’t be any of that.”

Analysis

1997 world champion Ken Doherty told PA:

“I think Neil Robertson is favourite with the way he is playing, but he also came with big expectations last year.

“You have got to question him because he has admitted he doesn’t like it. I think it could be a big year for Ronnie O’Sullivan to win his seventh, and there is a case for both the Chinese players (Yan Bingtao and Zhao Xintong) going very deep.

“I hope Mark Selby will be able to put up a strong defence of the trophy. When Mark is playing at his best he’s very strong, and has proven himself very strong over the long format.

“Mark has the game and the temperament to win as many titles as O’Sullivan, but this year has been a very difficult year for him, and obviously his mental health concerns have got to take precedence.”