Shaun Murphy kept alive his hopes of rescuing a poor season at the Betfred World Championship as he came from 5-3 down to beat Mark Davis 10-7 in the opening round.
Murphy is yet to reach a ranking event final this season – the last time that happened over a whole campaign was in 2011/12. He admits he has struggled with his game for long periods, and has been affected by lockdown more than most as the pandemic has reduced his opportunities to practise at his base in Dublin.
Today’s victory for Murphy was only his third win at the Crucible since 2015
The 38-year-old has one more chance to turn his season around, and has proved in the past that he can produce his best at the Crucible, having lifted the trophy in 2005 and reached the final in 2009 and 2015. The world number seven faces Betfred Masters champion Yan Bingtao in the last 16, over a possible 25 frames on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. The pair met in the first round in 2017, Murphy winning 10-8.
Veteran Davis, age 48, will be disappointed not to have snatched the opportunity to take a major scalp as he had chances in the early stages of the match to build a significant lead. Murphy felt the key part of the contest was the end of the first session on Wednesday when he came from 4-2 down to trail just 5-4 overnight.
The first two frames of the concluding session were shared, then Murphy won three in a row with top breaks of 56 and 93 to lead 8-6. In frame 15, Davis ran out of position on the final green when leading 55-41, but laid a snooker behind the brown which set up the chance for him to close to 8-7.
In the 16th, Murphy led 60-4 with four reds left when he missed a short-range pink to a centre pocket. Davis could have hurt him by clearing the table, but under-cut a tricky penultimate red to a centre pocket. That proved the crucial moment as Murphy sealed the frame for 9-7, then finished the match in style with a break of 131.
“There was a moment in the first session where I was all at sea and there for the taking,” said Murphy. “I stole the seventh frame from nowhere and that gave me the catalyst to get back into the match. I had a good night’s sleep and felt optimistic about today.”
Murphy failed to qualify for the last two events of the Cazoo Series but does not feel he has benefitted from extra rest ahead of the trip to Sheffield. “I watched those events devastated,” he said. “I was the first reserve at the Players Championship as the 17th seed so I had to spend four or five days at the hotel having to watch other players in a tournament I was in last year. I beat myself up about it, made myself watch every ball and would have been terrible company.”
Looking ahead to his match with Yan, he said: “When he came over as young man, we all thought he could win big events, and now he has one of the Triple Crowns. He has the Masters trophy at home and it’s fully deserved. He’s a very good, player and he will only go from strength to strength. Hopefully our match will be the best one we’ve had.”
Only two of the top 16 seeds have gone out so far in the first round and Murphy believes the presence of the crowd has been a factor. He added: “The top 16 are there because they are better at performing in front of a live audience. When you walk out here, we get excited and we’re stood backstage, it’s like watching people jump out of a plane. You’re thinking ‘it’s my turn next’ and you have to walk out. That sorts the men from the boys. I’m not surprised that the players who are more used to it have flourished so far.”