Welsh Open 2011: Maguire Edges Selby To Reach Final

Tonight’s second semi-final between Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby always had the look of a tight match and while I had fancied Selby to shade it, it was Maguire who booked his place in the final with a 6-5 win…

As the players entered the arena it was Maguire who appeared to be the more relaxed, interrupting MC Rob Walker to say hello to his children and warn them not to stay up too late tonight. Perhaps he was expecting what would prove to be a lengthy match.

Early on though it did not start off that way, Stephen surviving a thumping kick on an early pink and taking the opening frame with a break of 70 before Selby levelled the match with a couple of 39 breaks.

What followed was a dramatic third frame as having got in with an initial 65, Maguire looked to have thrown it away when he missed a frame-ball plant to hand the chance to Selby. Mark though just made things awkward as he got onto the colours which culminated in his decision to play safe from brown, one that again raised the topic of whether Mark’s mindset is too negatively at the moment.

For a moment it looked to have worked as he sunk the pink to leave himself perfect on the black, but shockingly he missed it to the near jaw and stuck it over the pocket for a relieved Maguire. Selby did not make him play it though, earning him a reprimand from referee Jan Verhaas for the premature concession.

Importantly for Mark however, he reacted well, taking a more tactical fourth frame to send him into the interval level at 2-2 before he added the next to lead for the first time with a top run of 65.

Given Maguire’s questionable temperament at times during his career, I wondered how he would respond at this stage of the match but I need not have worried as although he started with a blue, he made a fabulous clearance of 137 to bring himself level again.

Mark to his credit added the next with 88 before Maguire levelled again in what proved to be another key frame in this match. Initially it was Selby who had the chance but he could not make it count and Maguire came back to the table in amongst the reds and trailing by 42. It was far from easy though and eventually he was to be stopped by a bad piece of luck, going in-off following a pot on the final red into the green pocket, setting the scene for a tremendous safety battle on the final yellow. With some top snookers being played, it was eventually Selby who made the crucial error, catching the yellow too thick on an attempted safety, his last shot of the frame.

If that frame was scrappy, the next was simply brilliant as Maguire hit the front with a break of 109 which was for me bettered only by Stephen Hendry’s 147 earlier in the week.Memorable shots included a tremendous long red which was about half an inch off the side-cushion followed by a pressure pot on the black with the white against that very same cushion. Later in the break it looked like it had gone wrong when he finished close to the green but he recovered the situation well with a long recovery pot on the blue.

You can never write off Mark Selby though and the Jester from Leicester responded with a fine break of 90 to set up a decider. The highlight was in fact the opening red which from distance with the other reds spread far and wide, could have been his last shot had he missed it. Despite the pressure though he sunk it to keep his hopes alive.

Unfortunately for Mark however, while he had survived a poor break-off in the ninth frame, he was not to be so lucky again as not for the first time in the match, he left a red over the right-hand middle pocket. Not many deciders are won in one visit but Maguire effectively did just that, making 67 to leave Mark needing a couple of snookers before eventually sealing the win. Stephen played positively throughout and that was never more apparent than during his final break when having been unfortunate not to split the pack, he nevertheless doubled a red into the left-centre to continue the break.

So congratulations to Stephen who despite consistently reaching quarter-finals recently has not actually been in a ranking final since the China Open back in 2008. I was hugely impressed with his resilience and temperament tonight which looked as strong as I have seen it in a couple of years.

Can he defeat John Higgins in tomorrow’s final? It is a tall order, but their past matches have always been close, Maguire winning 6-5 in the Masters and 9-7 in the UK, Higgins winning 9-7 in the UK and 17-15 in their world semi-finals. Higgins has to be favourite, particularly having had more time to prepare for the final, but you never know.

Mark Selby meanwhile will be disappointed but despite the excellent fight that he put up tonight, I didn’t feel that he looked quite right for some reason, it is difficult to put my finger on it. Again I felt that he looked a little negative at times, although it is easy to say that at the moment and he cannot be playing too badly to reach the semi-finals here and the final in Berlin recently. Will be interesting to hear what he has to say post-match…