MARK Selby’s reputation as a man with ice in his veins at the Masters was well deserved after 11 wins from 11 deciders played in the tournament prior to this 2015 staging.
But most such sequences do come to an end and Shaun Murphy held his nerve to halt the world champion’s reign as the event’s undisputed sudden-death king at Alexandra Palace on Sunday afternoon.
After seeing a 5-1 lead disappear into the ether Murphy showed real character and grit to pull himself together and edge through 6-5 into the quarter-finals.
Relieved former Crucible king Murphy, who got engaged over Christmas to girlfriend Elaine, also swelled the wedding fund coffers by £25,000 in making it through to the last eight.
World No11 Murphy, 32, who certainly tied Selby in knots early on, has specifically targeted the Masters title this season to complete the Triple Crown of world, UK and Masters crowns.
He said: “You have to be strong against Mark. Not only is he the world champion but the king of brinkmanship at the Masters.
“This tournament is very, very difficult, it is the best in the world. A few probably thought I was home and hosed at 5-1 up but I knew better and I was happy to get over the line.
“You have seen the comebacks so often from Mark, and as the frames tick you start panicking. I missed a black off the spot at 5-3 and sometimes the snooker gods don’t forgive you.
“Mark is so comfortable out there even when well behind, he starts having a laugh and a joke and you know what’s coming.
“That was the first time Elaine had come to see me play live, and she might not want to do it again after that. It’s not great for the nerves watching for family and friends, a baptism of fire for her.
“It would have been a horrible journey back up the M6 losing from 5-1 up, and I am very pleased her first visit was a winning one. It takes a bit of pressure for the wedding whenever we do that.”
Three-time Masters winner Selby said: “The record had to end sometime. It was a strange kind of match. I got the century in the first frame, but then lost concentration and started missing a lot of silly balls.
“Shaun took confidence from that, but I stuck in there and almost turned it around. I was confident in the decider and just wanted a chance but the balls kept falling awkward.”
Selby got his tournament off to a flier with a break of 100 in front of a huge sell-out crowd of 1,700 – but it was only pain for the next five frames.
Murphy enjoyed a fine 2014 with four titles and three maximum 147s – and edged 2-1 up in London despite a high break to that point of just 29.
However the Magician then started to get into his stride, helped by some uncharacteristic blunders from a rusty-looking Selby.
Murphy made a 92 to go 3-1 up, a 55 to extend that lead and then made it five frames on the spin to leave Selby on the brink at 5-1 down.
But comebacks are Selby’s stock in trade especially at the Masters, and after clawing one frame back he continued another one with a superb run of 120.
Murphy blew a glorious chance to wrap up the match in the next, missing a black off the spot – and Selby’s 92 forced the decider only for his opponent to recover his poise in the nick of time.
Photograph by Monique Limbos