SHAUN MURPHY readily admits that 2013 was a year he was glad to see the back of, a period of intense frustration that saw the 2005 world champion suffer a series of early exits this season and fail to reach a major final for 12 months.
Now 31, the Sale-based Murphy acknowledges that these are the years when he should be lifting trophies to make all the years of toil and sacrifice worthwhile, and improve a haul of four ranking titles that is modest in comparison to some of his rivals. A total of 16 losing semi-finals in the events that matter most over the years has not helped in that regard.
But if Murphy has slipped to no.8 in the world and is no longer always mentioned in dispatches when it comes to predicting the winner of a tournament, he remains a class act when on song and showing the swagger around the table that saw him surf to glory at the Crucible nine years ago.
“It is an important year, 2014, but I am looking at it with open eyes and seeing the opportunities rather than the potential problems,” Murphy told Inside Snooker.
“As far as my results are concerned, I can’t really control them. I am not in control of whether I win or lose snooker matches because there is someone else involved. It is frustrating but all I can do is keep going back to the practice table and work as hard as I can.
“In that way I am as ready as I can be every time I turn out to play, and I always do that, do the best job I can do, be professional and represent the sport well. I can’t control winning and losing.
“This season so far has been very tough, I have played a lot of people playing near the top of their form. It has been the most frustrating season of my career.
“There have been seasons where I have not practised or worked as hard as I am now, but most years still picked up some silverware, even if it was an invitation event.
“2013 is certainly a year I am pleased to get behind me, and I am looking forward to better things in 2014. It can be a little thing that turns it all round, something that clicks for your belief or confidence. It could be a good shot, break , match or tournament win. It doesn’t matter what.”
Murphy’s first-round Dafabet Masters match-up with Ding Junhui, one of the men of the season and the winner of three ranking titles back to back, looks one of the standout ties and may be the wake-up call needed.
“Look what happened with Ding last year, that great run from the Shanghai Masters and he won three titles on the bounce,” said Murphy.
“I don’t want these years just going past, I want to be cashing in at the age of 31. Now is the time for me to hit the ‘go’ button and stack up as many wins as I can. I hope it will come good.
“I know the bookmakers are making me a bigger price these days for titles but I have no interest in what they say. It has no bearing on my chances or my life. They were wrong about me in 2005, and in the Premier League final against Ronnie O’Sullivan.”
Murphy is adamant that he will do everything possible to recapture his best form and once again be a realistic contender for the title every time he lines up in the first round. And he confesses to a profound admiration for world No1 Neil Robertson and No2 Mark Selby, who so often find a way to dig in and get results.
“You don’t want to leave any stone unturned during your career,” said Murphy. “The answer could be anywhere, the key to success and winning titles regularly.
“You don’t know where that extra 5 per cent could be. Until you find it everyone thinks you’re a madman, then when you do you’re a genius and the ultimate pro. I am old-fashioned in the sense that I look at the basics, review matches, spend time on the table in my club with coach Chris Henry.
“And the good thing is that when you do get on a run there are so many events you can make the most of it, not sit around waiting two months for the next tournament.
“12 months everyone wrote Henrik Stenson off in golf, now he is the best thing since sliced bread again. People around me keep telling me form is temporary, and I am trying my best.
“I don’t think I have lost too much ground on my main rivals, on our day we are all capable of beating each other. But I study the game and you see Neil Robertson and Mark Selby in particular winning with their B and C games. It is what Steve Davis could do.
“I would love to understand how they do that, they don’t seem to play their best all the time but keep churning out the results. There is a skill in that, like a golfer who gets round in 69 but doesn’t shoot the lights out, finding a way.
“In the past when I have won tournaments it is because I have blown everyone away with flair and big breaks and entertaining snooker. It hasn’t been grinding results out, and finding that consistent level is even more important now.
“It would be great to get back on the winning trail and I can’t wait to get out there at the Masters.”
Photographs by Monique Limbos.