WHEN Shaun Murphy lost to Mark Selby 6-1 in their Masters semi-final in January it prompted a most uncharacteristic outburst from the former world champion.
Murphy is a player that has certainly never been short of self-belief, dating back even before he claimed that memorable World Championships win at the Crucible nine years ago.
But after that heavy loss in the prestigious invitation event, having prior to that match played the best snooker of the tournament along with Ronnie O’Sullivan, the cheery mask slipped.
The 31-year-old, known as ‘The Magician’, openly questioned whether he had a mental block that was hampering his chances of walking away with trophies – and even hinted he could go and do something else for a living.
Many players say similar things after a disappointing defeat, but not the normally ebullient Murphy. And it was almost certainly a combination of factors that led to this.
Firstly, a very poor season up which had seen Murphy failing to get past the last 16 in any ranking event before his Haikou World Open breakthrough.
Secondly a demoralising and potentially career-defining set of defeats in major semi-finals that had risen to 17 with the loss to Selby.
Thirdly, the lack at that time of any title for two and a half years.
And lastly a ranking title haul of just four, which even in a fiercely competitive environment looked light for a player of Murphy’s class and determination.
Clearly in turmoil over his results, there were various ways Murphy could have gone but he took the positives out of his earlier matches at Alexandra Palace, and also the Championship League 147 maximum break the week before.
There was no radical jettisoning of any of his close-knit team, or seismic changes in approach – just a return to the practice table in the belief that the hard work would pay off after months of failure.
And it did pay off. First there was the success at the Gdynia Open in Poland, where Murphy’s victims included Stuart Bingham and Stephen Maguire, before beating Fergal O’Brien 4-1 in the final.
But on Hainan Island the player that emerged holding the trophy was more reminiscent of the one that stormed through the field in Sheffield in 2005.
A tough draw meant Murphy had to impressively dispose of Ding Junhui, Graeme Dott, Mark Allen and Selby. Players have won the world title with easier paths.
But his luck had also turned. Playing the tournament with a new tip, Murphy coped with that and then survived a decider against Ding, fluked the final black to beat Dott in the quarter-final, and saw Allen go in-off on a re-spotted black to lose their semi-final.
And having overcome his semi-final hoodoo Murphy made the most of his final appearance, racing into an ultimately decisive 7-2 lead in the afternoon, and converting that into a 10-6 victory.
Three times comeback king Selby looked on the point of getting back into the match, but three times Murphy responded – especially from 4-2, when runs of 98, 105 and 111 effectively took the match away from his opponent and good friend.
Snooker can mentally be the most demoralising of sports, but Murphy’s return to winner’s enclosure should offer hope for others who feel they are under-achieving.
As he said himself afterwards, “there is no big secret – it was just hard work”.