IN A PRE-TOURNAMENT interview with the BBC, Shaun Murphy gave himself ten years to win the Masters. Ten days later and he’s the champion.
Murphy thus becomes the tenth player to complete the ‘triple crown’ of World Championship, UK Championship and Masters titles, a significant milestone in his career.
The scale of his 10-2 victory over Neil Robertson was a surprise given how well the Australian played to reach the final. But anyone who saw Murphy become world champion a decade ago will not be surprised he has now won the Big Three, only perhaps that it took him ten years.
Murphy’s strength comes not only from his game but also his attitude to snooker. He loves the sport. He loves playing it, he loves watching it, he loves being part of its world. Disappointing defeats have at times threatened a separation but he has always in his heart stayed true to the green baize game.
Life wasn’t always such fun. As a teenager he was bullied so badly that he was taken out of school and tutored at home. Snooker gave him an outlet for self-expression and his performances as a junior helped to grow his confidence. He discovered who he was and was comfortable with it.
By the time he played at the Masters for the first time as an 18 year-old he seemed very mature and self-assured for his age. Four years later he won the World Championship as a qualifier and was propelled into the spotlight, not always a pleasant place to be.
Suddenly, his results were closely monitored. Other players raised their games against him. The hunter had become the hunted.
Murphy has won various titles since his 2005 Crucible triumph, including the 2008 UK Championship, but tonight’s rout of Robertson is his biggest highlight since his Sheffield breakthrough. To beat a player of Robertson’s class by such a wide margin is a real career highlight.
He joins the Melbourne man and his good friend Mark Selby as the latest members of the Triple Crown club, alongside Steve Davis, Terry Griffiths, Alex Higgins, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
What snooker player wouldn’t want to be on this list?
I’ve heard many people say Murphy ‘should have’ won more. ‘Could have’ would be kinder and probably fairer. He’s been to the business end of many tournaments but, of course, there have been a number of other world class talents standing in his way.
This hasn’t stopped people questioning his mental toughness but I don’t believe this is a quality he has lacked. It may be nearer the mark to say that he has so enjoyed being a top snooker professional that he has not displayed the same ruthlessness at times as some of his rivals, but today’s bravura display puts paid to all of that.
Shaun is a very special player. His ability to walk out into an arena with everything on the line and genuinely enjoy himself win or lose must frustrate some of his fellow players.
He usually shrugs off defeats. His 6-1 semi-final loss to Selby at Alexandra Palace last year was a rare exception but his public howl of despair may have done him some good. For once, he wasn’t trying to say the right things but speaking from the heart, as much to himself as the wider world.
It seemed to galvanise an emotion within him: you’re a better player than this. Start working harder, start fighting more, start believing in yourself again.
Murphy won four titles in 2014 following this setback and has begun 2015 in the best way possible.
As for Robertson, this is a defeat which will hurt. Its long term effects will be interesting. After superb performances against Ali Carter and Ronnie O’Sullivan, the final was something of a humiliation. It all went wrong after he missed a routine pink in the opening frame and, very unusually, he never really settled or looked comfortable.
In individual sports, such reverses are very public and stick in the collective mind. But Robertson is too good not to bounce back.
Tonight, though, belongs to Shaun Murphy. These tournaments are emotionally draining affairs. Players have to put so much into winning them. So Murphy deserves his £200,000 winners’ cheque.
Furthermore, he deserves to feel very proud of himself for landing the final leg of snooker’s most celebrated treble.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.