Luca Brecel lifts lid on wild World Championship win: ‘It was a crazy thing to do’

Luca Brecel took a unique route to World Championship glory Getty Images)

There remains an air of mystery over just how Luca Brecel managed to win the 2023 World Snooker Championship the way he did, with the champion admitting: ‘I don’t know how I kept it going for the whole tournament. It’s strange, very strange.’

The Belgian arrived in Sheffield last year without a single win to his name at the Crucible, then he won five on the spin to go home with the trophy.

A sensational story in any circumstances, but given Brecel was ill at the start of the event, barely practiced leading up to it and spent the tournament driving back-and-forth from Belgium to get on the beers with his pals, it was all the more remarkable.

That is before mentioning that he beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the quarters, Mark Selby in the final, Mark Williams in the second round and produced the greatest comeback in Crucible history to beat Si Jiahui in the semis. Little about his achievement would have seemed believable before he pulled it off.

Even from the off, he was given a tough draw in the opening round against Ricky Walden and did not attend the media day on the eve of the Crucible due to illness.

Asked if he was just calling in sick to avoid media duties, Brecel insists he was not, and was actually robbed of foretelling his immense achievement to come.

‘I was actually really ill!’ Brecel told Metro. ‘Towards the end of the day I felt better and thought, maybe I could have gone, but I was still in Belgium. I needed to travel the day before.

Luca Brecel in action against Ronnie O'Sullivan (not pictured) on day eleven of the Cazoo World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield. Picture date: Tuesday April 25, 2023. PA Photo. See PA Story SNOOKER World. Photo credit should read: Zac Goodwin/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Use subject to restrictions. Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder.

Brecel confused pundits by his approach to the biggest event on the calendar (Picture: PA)

‘I’ve said this before, but if I would have gone to the media day I would have said, “I’m going to win the tournament.” Not because I was playing really well, I just needed something to have a little spark and little challenge.

‘I think Peter Wright did it once in darts. He said he was going to win the Matchplay and the Worlds and he did it, which is incredible.

‘I was going to say that but I didn’t get the chance, so maybe no one’s going to believe it, but it’s the truth. There must have been something in the air.

‘I wasn’t thinking about it anymore in the tournament, even when I got to the semis or something. That first game against Ricky was a really tough one. I was just happy to make a break in the last frame and I was happy to play the second round for the first time, it was a good experience.’

2021/22 PDC William Hill World Darts Championship - Day Sixteen

Peter Wright followed through with his promise of a Matchplay-World Championship double (Picture: Getty Images)

After the dramatic 10-9 win over Walden, Brecel revealed the surprising news that in terms of preparation he ‘maybe had only 15 minutes of practice in three weeks’ and had ‘been playing darts most of the time.’

There was not much practice to come either as he drove to Belgium and back to Sheffield in between matches, returning to beat Williams in the last 16 and then O’Sullivan in the last eight.

After winning the last seven frames to down the Rocket, Brecel said: ‘After I beat Mark Williams I went home, got home at 7am by car and that same day we went out again till 5am, drunk as hell.

‘Then the next day I had to drive back here, so it’s totally different preparation.’

It is a baffling plan for most people, but The Belgian Bullet says it all helped him take his mind off the huge task at hand on the table.

‘When I drive now I get tired, but up until now I never got tired from driving and I liked it, in a way,’ he says. ‘It made me calm and put my mind in a different space. I just tried to enjoy myself as much as possible and not think about the World Championship, not think about getting results.

‘All my friends were really into it, they were all like, “Oh, are you going to win the next game?” I was trying to avoid it. Just do my own thing and not think about it too much.’

Luca Brecel partying during World Championship on Instagram

Brecel posted updates from his night’s out during the World Championship (Picture: Instagram)

Asked whether his friends were surprised to be boozing with Brecel in Belgium in between him playing legends of the game in South Yorkshire, he said: ‘Yeah, it was a crazy thing to do.

‘I was thinking  when I went out till really late in the morning, if my opponent would know I’m in Belgium right now, going out and I need to travel tomorrow to play him the next day, what will he be thinking? It’s crazy.

‘I’ve never done it before and I’m never going to do it again because actually I don’t really drink much, I don’t like partying, I love being at home, a chilled life. That was just a strange phase in my life.

‘I don’t know how I did it, especially over 17 days. If it was a four-day tournament then you could get away with but I don’t know how I kept it going for the whole tournament. I played really well in every game…it’s strange, very strange.’

Brecel won seven frames on the bounce to beat O’Sullivan 13-10 (Picture: Getty Images)

The amazing comeback to beat O’Sullivan was extremely hard to top, but Brecel did it in the semis, finding himself 14-5 down to Si, but emerging with a stunning 17-15 victory.

After beating Williams and the Rocket, expectations changed and he admits he felt his amazing run was over, until it wasn’t.

’14-5 down I was thinking it’s not going to be my year, no way,’ he said. ‘The problem was, when I beat Ronnie I felt like the favourite against Si, which was strange for me being in the semi-final of the Worlds and being the favourite, but that was the way it was, Si was number 80-something in the world.

‘So that was a strange occasion for me. I felt like I was going to be in the final. Obviously you never underestimate your opponent but that’s how I felt, then the way he played was incredible.

‘The problem was he didn’t stop! He just kept playing the same way and I thought he has to miss at some point, but it just didn’t happen!

‘Then he missed a green to go 15-9, I would never have come back from that, no chance. That was the turning point. But even then he could easily have still won, I needed a lot of things to go my way, luckily they did, you need a bit of luck in the World Championship.’

Brecel’s win from nine frames behind set a Crucible comeback record that may never be topped.

‘I was talking to Graeme Dott about it and he said he doesn’t think that record is ever going to be broken,’ said Brecel. ‘One reason is because no one ever gets a lead that big anyway. To get the lead and the other guy to come back is impossible. Unbelievable.’

Then came as great a mountain as there is to scale in the game, trying to beat Mark Selby in a World Championship final, but the unflappable Bullet remained unfazed.

Just 28 years old at the time, Brecel not only remained calm, but carried out a plan to put the four-time world champion under pressure from the off.

‘I was having fun,’ he said. ‘When you start a game over such a long distance there’s no reason to feel pressure the first two frames. 2-0 down, 2-0 up it doesn’t matter, it doesn’t change the game at all, so I just played.

‘The first frame I think was six or seven minutes and that was actually on purpose. I said before I went out, if I get a chance I’m going to play really quick, just for Mark Selby to think, “hmm, why is he not under pressure in his first World final?”

‘That was kind of a statement and I think it worked, I think he was a bit put off by that. Obviously it’s really hard to put him off anyway, but I think he didn’t expect to see that first frame.

‘Apart from that I had to play really well to have a chance because he’s such a good player, but it’s definitely a mind game, snooker, especially at the top level.’

That was the first of the 18 frames he won to Selby’s 15 and Brecel was Belgium’s first winner of the World Snooker Championship.

2023 Cazoo World Snooker Championship - Day 17

Brecel and Selby played the World final in superb spirit (Picture: Getty Images)

The two finalists partied together till early in the Sheffield morning, before the champion departed on something of a global tour of glamorous holiday destinations and the odd snooker exhibition.

At some point on that journey he allowed himself to think about what he achieved, although he says it took a while.

‘It took me some time to really let it sink in,’ he said. ‘The first few months it was strange, I couldn’t get my head around it. Even now I still think about it every week, maybe every day.

‘Just because it’s so special to be on that World trophy, It’s not like winning the UK [Championship] or the Masters, although they are amazing tournaments to win, the Worlds, everyone watches it. It’s really, really special. It’s an honour to be on the list.’

At the time it felt like a special edition of the World Championship and a year later that is still the case, with storylines that may well never be written again.

Brecel certainly feels he won a unique event, not just because of what he did but how the whole tournament was played out, and a certain six-time world champ agrees.

‘Yeah, I think 100 per cent [it was a classic World Championship], not just my way to the final, but everyone, the way they played and what happened,’ he said. ‘Ronnie and Hossein [Vafaei], stuff like that. Lots of things were happening. Amazing tournament.

‘Steve Davis, he never really talks to me, not because he doesn’t want to talk to me, he’s just busy doing other things, but I saw him in the lift one day after the World Championship and he said it was the best way he ever saw anyone win it. That was a big compliment because you could see he was really serious.

‘I have watched the final and semi-final back a couple of times and it was quite incredible.’


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