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Murphy On Becoming “Complete Player”

Murphy claimed the first title of the season at the BetVictor Championship League.

Recently crowned BetVictor Championship League winner Shaun Murphy believes that finally, 25 years after turning professional, he is now the complete player.

The 2005 Crucible king carried over his red-hot form from the conclusion of last season into the new campaign, winning the opening ranking event at the Championship League on Friday. He defeated Mark Williams 3-0 in the final.

Victory marks the 12th ranking crown of Murphy’s illustrious career, but it is only now that the Magician feels he has mastered all facets of the sport. The Englishman had endured a 30-month ranking title drought, which extended back to the 2020 Welsh Open, but he ended that run earlier this year with wins at the Players Championship and Tour Championship. The work which Murphy put in to sharpen his game and get to this point has left him in a position which he believes to be the strongest of his career.

“I feel like I’m playing the best I ever have. The matches I’ve lost over the years where I’ve played the wrong shot, been too aggressive, lost my head or lost my composure – I feel that learning has all now taken place and come together and I’ve become the complete player,” said 40-year-old Murphy.

“It has taken me longer than I’d hoped to get to this point. I wanted to be here a lot earlier, but it is better late than never. I feel I am in the best form of my life. That doesn’t mean you will win every week but I’m in a really good place as a person and that is enabling me to play good snooker. This sport is 90% between the ears and if you are in a good emotional state then you make good decisions. It is going to take someone playing out of their skin to beat you. It is encouraging that the things that my team and I have been working on are the right things. Through some quite diligent management of that situation, we have done this. There has been a lot of note taking and watching of previous matches. It hasn’t just been me but also Robbie Murphy, we’ve been able to work out how to play well.

“When I wasn’t winning, it would have been very easy to give up. However, I knew things were going in the right direction. I went to the UK Championship last year thinking I could win, but walked into an inspired Jack Lisowski and it was the same with Scott Donaldson at the Scottish Open, Stuart Bingham at the Masters and others. They churned out performances of the Gods. Despite that, I knew it was a matter of persevering. That was tested to its full at the Welsh Open, I made the 145 and the 147 and played some brilliant snooker. Losing to Robert Milkins in the final hurt. After all of that, it felt amazing when I won the Players and then the Tour Championship. If you write your list of ingredients for success then perseverance would be right near the top.”

One of the big changes Murphy has made away from the table is embarking on a weight loss regime, which included gastric sleeve surgery. Throughout recent years the Triple Crown winner has been blighted with back and neck problems and he says this action has played a factor in lessening these issues.

Murphy said: “I think there is no question that the weight loss surgery which I took on in May last year has been the biggest contributing factor to my success and performance over the last 12 months. I am the best part of five stone lighter and that has to have an impact on your flexibility and manoeuvrability around the table. There is a lot of management of that situation, which has gone on around that. I have quite intensive physio sessions, as well as a strong and deep stretching routine I do most days. I no longer get to the table and just play. We have all probably done that quite ignorantly throughout our careers. I It is still there and I do get the odd niggle. I cross my fingers every day. I’ve done things to calm it down and I’m a lot more sensitive to my own body now.

“When I turned professional, the only people who went to the gym were athletes. Now anyone will go and have a membership. Everyone is fitting into that world and trying to look after themselves a bit more. My physio said to me that the position you ask your body to take to play snooker is possibly one of the worst positions to put your back, spine and neck in for a prolonged period of time. I’ve been doing it for 32 years with no real thought about the damage I was doing. I think it is about changing mindsets. You can see it starting to happen. The younger players are all into their fitness anyway. I further believe that in a few years time we will have an official physio on tour. I think that is coming.

“If you look at someone like Novak Djokovic in tennis, he is an absolute machine. He is so supple and he has sacrificed so much to make sure he is in the best condition to play the best tennis of his life at all times. I think we are guilty in snooker of being a little bit behind that curve. If I could have my career again I’d pay a lot more attention to my own body and my nutrition to get some longevity.”

Murphy’s season did end in disappointment at the Cazoo World Championship last year, when he was beaten by China’s Si Jiahui 10-9 in a classic opening round contest. The fact the pair were pitted together seemed to be written in the stars after he had claimed that Si, playing as an amateur, shouldn’t have been allowed to face him after a defeat during the 2021 UK Championship.

Murphy has since admitted he regrets those comments and says he was pleased to witness Si kick on and make the Crucible semi-finals, before bowing out 17-15 to eventual World Champion Luca Brecel.

“When you make wild, ignorant and crazy comments, like I did when I lost to Si Jiahui 18 months ago, life has a way of kicking you up the backside. I got my just desserts. I knew I was going to draw him! I actually look back on that match as one of the best in the championship. It was a very high standard game, which went down to the final couple of balls. I lost to somebody who really should have been a finalist. He had more than one foot in the final at 14-5 up to Luca Brecel. Does it make it easier to cope with an early defeat when they have a good run? Maybe. It is great for the game as a wider subject that Si has burst onto the scene.

“I came off the match and thought that if I play that well for the rest of my life I’d be very happy. It was a stellar performance for us both and in the end he just pipped it. If anything it invigorated me to go again this season. I’m playing the best snooker of my life and I feel if I ever am going to add a second Crucible crown it will be in the next few years. I’m in the frame of mind that wins big championships. To some degree, I wish the World Championship was next month because I’d fancy my chances. There is a lot of snooker to be played between now and then. Lots of things can happen on and off the table. Who knows what condition I will be this year. If I can get there in the same form as a couple of months ago I’ll be in a good position.”

On top of talents such as Si from China, Murphy believes that rookie professionals Stan Moody and Liam Pullen, as well as Liam Davies could herald a new generation of talented British players. The teenage trio have made a big impact in their fledgling careers. Although Davies is yet to earn his professional status, he became the youngest ever World Championship match winner in 2022. Moody earned his place on the circuit by winning the WSF Junior Championship, while Pullen was the only rookie to emerge from Q School. Murphy has recently been mentoring Moody and thinks he has huge potential.

“It has been wonderful to be welcomed into the Moody team. It is always nice when someone asks you for help. It is very flattering. The Moody family approached me just over a year ago to help them and it has been wonderful to see Stan flourish as a young player and a young man. I was up until the wee hours watching him win the WSF Junior Championship in Australia and with that he got his tour card. We are waiting now to see how he copes with it and handles it. Himself, Liam Pullen and Liam Davies, are the new flag bearers of their generation. Who is to say we won’t be talking about the class of 23 in years to come? What I can say is if Stan finds a way of unlocking his practice game and potential then he can achieve big things.

“As professionals on the tour we hear about amateur players all of the time. There is always the next big thing coming. Some do and some don’t. I think with these three, this trio, you are looking at the real deal. They are all young men and they are all going to run into challenges away from snooker. Those things have challenged the potential of so many people. There are landmines everywhere. It has been lovely to be asked to help Stan navigate those and long may it continue.”