Graeme Dott withstood a gritty fightback from Mark Selby to book his place in the final of the World Championships here in Sheffield.
The Scotsman, who resumed on Saturday with a 10-6 lead, had to endure the first two frames of the third session going the way of the Masters Champion Selby. The first was a scrappy affair, the second was rather more dramatic.
Dott had fired in a break of 60, only to miss a red to the centre. The Englishman came to the table 65 points behind with 67 on the table. A simple red was dispatched, followed by an excellent pink to develop the black, and slowly but surely Selby inched his way closer to his target to clear with 66 and pinch the frame by one point.
A weaker player might have let their head drop after such a blow, but Dott is an extremely strong person on the table and promptly hit back by drilling in a long diagonal red from the baulk line, kick-starting a break of 57 which was good enough to secure the 19th frame and restore his two frame cushion.
Selby still wasn’t displaying the free-flowing style that has made him such a feared opponent, and no more a graphic example than in frame 20 when, going strongly on a break of 38, he overhit a blue to the centre. It was a terrible miss, scattering balls all over the table; he was lucky not to leave anything on for Dott. The Scotsman was forced to take on a risky double to the centre which missed by some distance. It was then a simple matter for Selby to wrap up the frame to cut his deficit to 9-11.
Selby started to gain in confidence and the alarm bells must have been ringing for Dott, the 2006 World Champion, as Selby kept him in his seat with a break of 67, enough to win the frame and close the gap to just 10-11. Could Dott respond again? The answer was a resounding yes as Dott snatched the next frame on the colours and then made a decisive break of 56 to lead at 13-10. With one frame of the session then remaining, Dott was set to carry a lead of two frames, if not four, into the final evening session.
Mindful of this, Dott kept the pressure on with a run of 51 before missing a blue to the corner, which would have left Selby needing a snooker. Selby was then able to fire in a long red, followed by a black clipped in from off the side cushion. Although he couldn’t win the frame outright, Selby would have been able to tie and force a re-spotted black. Dott could only watch as the Leicester man edged closer, sinking the yellow, green, brown and blue before landing on a tricky pink to the centre from under the top cushion. As Selby powered the pink it hit the jaw and trundled round the table before coming to rest close to the top corner pocket. His chance had gone. Dott only needed the pink for a 14-10 lead.
You could hear a pin drop as Dott lined up the pot. He cued it perfectly, the pink dropped, and the Scot punched the air in delight – he had come through a crisis on the table. Selby would need one of his famous fightbacks to overcome the 10-14 deficit and deny Dott a place in the final.
As the last session got underway Selby settled quickly, taking the opening frame with a break of 46. Encouraged, he followed up by capitalising when Dott lost position and left an easy red to the corner. He needed no second invitation and rolled in a break of 79 to reduce Dott’s lead to 12-14. The Scotsman reeled from the onslaught of the Leicester professional who then banged in a long red to set up a break of 83 and pull himself within one frame at 13-14.
Having lost the first three frames of the session, Dott badly needed to reply before the mid-session interval. However nothing seemed to be coming easily for the former World Champion – Selby’s time at the table had frozen him out and disrupted his rhythm. Finally, however, he was given a chance when Selby managed to leave a mid-length red. With nothing less than painstaking effort Dott strung together a vital break of 46 to take the 28th frame and restore his leading buffer at 15-13. His worries were eased.
Selby reasserted himself by winning the first frame of the final act to close on his opponent once more at 14-15. Dott still needed two frames for victory, and the first one came when he managed to keep things sufficiently tight to prevent Selby from re-establishing his rhythm. The fight was drained from Selby whose break-off in the next frame presented Dott with a chance of a long red. Hanging on for all he was worth, Dott rolled in the long red and stroked in a further 46 points. By this time Selby was gone mentally and physically, and Dott was ready to apply the coup de grace as he negotiated a snooker to lead 66-9. He needed just one more red for victory and his opportunity arrived quickly as the drained Selby missed an easy red. It was then a straightforward matter for Dott to convert it himself and seal a stunning victory, 17-14.
It’s a compelling return for Dott who, only a few months ago, was on the verge of dropping out of the top 32. He is now certain of a top-ten placement in the provisional rankings. He has overcome a string of personal difficulties and his run here is of fairytale proportions. This diminutive Scotsman, who has never been given the recognition he deserved for his world title victory in 2006, now has a chance to silence those who sniped at his success and cited him as a one-hit wonder.
So now to the final. It is Scotland versus Australia, Dott versus Robertson. The Scotsman is bidding for his second world title (in what will be his third world final appearance) against the man who can make history by becoming the first Australian to lift the title.
Let battle commence!