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Mark Selby shakes off slow start to World Snooker Champs title defence to build lead

Mark Selby shakes off slow start to World Snooker Champs title defence to build lead
The match marked Selby’s first appearance at the Crucible since revealing he was struggling with his mental health

Mark Selby shrugged off a sluggish start to establish a 6-3 lead over qualifier Jamie Jones in the opening session of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.

The defending champion looked far from comfortable in the opening exchanges of the match, which marked his first appearance at the Crucible since revealing he was struggling with his mental health.

Despite compiling two centuries ahead of Saturday night’s concluding session, Selby was some way from his best, and was reliant on a series of missed opportunities from the Welshman in order to chisel an early advantage.

Selby, 38, had come into the tournament having withdrawn from the previous two events in Turkey and Gibraltar, and admitted his participation in Sheffield had been far from certain.

The inevitable question-marks were hardly eased in a difficult first frame which Selby began with two fouls and a warning of a forfeit from referee Yan Martel if he missed for a third time.

Jones, making his fifth appearance at the Crucible, took the opener but missed the simplest of chances to extend his advantage, and Selby, despite some uncharacteristic misses of his own, moved 2-1 in front.

Zhao Xintong is in control of his match against Jamie Clarke (Richard Sellers/PA)
Zhao Xintong is in control of his match against Jamie Clarke (Richard Sellers/PA)

A break of 134 extended Selby’s advantage prior to the mid-session interval and, although Jones responded with a superb 60 clearance to black to reduce the deficit, the Welshman blew a 59-point lead in the next as he handed his opponent back the initiative.

Breaks of 73 et 129 sent Selby 6-2 in front and he should have extended his advantage, but a missed black off its spot served as a reminder that the outcome of the match was far from certain, as Jones clawed back to 6-3.

On the other table, UK champion Zhao Xintong hit two centuries and four further half-centuries as he cruised into a 7-2 lead against Jamie Clarke in a match scheduled to finish on Sunday.