Selby astonishing fight-back earned him 13 wins of the last 17 frames which ended O’Sullivan’s dream of retaining the world champion title that he had won five times.
By Sunday, O’Sullivan was looking set for a third consecutive crown and appeared to be cruising when he led 8-3 and 10-5. But Selby rallied to 10-7 overnight then won five of the six frames in the third session as O’Sullivan, uncharacteristically, crumbed under the intense pressure.
And Leicester’s 30-year-old Selby produced his best snooker of the match in the concluding session, winning the last three frames and sealing his victory. He goes home with the trophy and a record £300,000 top prize.
Selby becomes the ninth player in snooker history to win the Triple Crown of major titles, joining Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins and Neil Robertson
O’Sullivan’s long unbeaten spell in Sheffield came to an end after winning 14 consecutive matches. He was denied the sixth world title of his career, which would have brought him level with Steve Davis and within one of Stephen Hendry’s record.
The Rocket, who had won his quarter and semi-final matches with a session to spare, was a huge odds-on favourite for the title when he led 10-5. But he lost all confidence and fluency in the third session, and despite dressing room huddles with psychiatrist Steve Peters, he was unable to regain his rhythm.
Trailing 12-11 going into the final session, O’Sullivan started strong with a break of 100, his 13th century of the tournament. But a missed black on 24 in the next stopped him from gathering momentum as Selby ground out that frame to regain the lead.
Runs of 23 and 25 helped Selby gain control of frame 26 and he sealed it by potting the pink after his opponent failed to gain the snooker he needed. And safety errors from O’Sullivan in the 27th gave Selby the opportunity to make 56 and extend his lead to 15-12 at the interval.
O’Sullivan took the next in two scoring visits, then made a stunning 37 clearance in frame 29, highlighted by a drilled yellow down the length of a side cushion.
But Selby wrestled back the initiative emphatically, making a 127 – his only century of the final – followed by an 87 to lead 17-14.
O’Sullivan looked certain to pull one back until he ran out of position at 56-0 in the next. Selby clawed back to within 29 points with one red left. And when his chance came, he proved himself a true champion. A long red was followed by a series of terrific pots, particularly the green which was close to the top cushion, as he cleared the table to capture the title.
The final was watched by stars including actor Stephen Fry, darts supremo Phil Taylor, Iron Maiden drummer Nico McBrain and Muse frontman Matthew Bellamy.