BOTH of the Masters finalists, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy, can he held up as prime current examples of players leaving no stone unturned to make the best of their ability.
World No1 Robertson has bent the ear of just about every top player past and present in a relentless quest for self-improvement.
And Murphy, in the doldrums 13 months ago and with an unenviable record of 19 defeats in big-event semi-finals, even openly contemplated his future after a 6-1 loss to Mark Selby in the 2014 Masters.
But winners are made of stern stuff, and Murphy refused to rest on his laurels of a 2005 world title now a decade ago, and at that time three other ranking titles. He went back to basics, worked hard with coach Chris Henry and manager Brandon Parker on his safety and being more aggressive when the chances came long, and the approach has paid handsome dividends.
Murphy won the World Open last year and three European Tour titles, chucking in three 147 breaks along the way.
Robertson’s 6-1 victory over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the Masters semi-finals was an important and long-awaited moment that underlined his status. It could be this year that he even takes on the mantle of favourite with the bookies in a draw in which the Rocket also appears.
Both players are now 32 and Murphy said: “I think that applies to both of us certainly, and I’m sure other players too. But I know even during disappointing periods in my career when I didn’t think I was winning what I should or playing how I was capable of, I didn’t give up. I worked to get better, and I know Neil is like that.
“I see that as a normal approach to anything in sport and in life. In snooker, golf, tennis and business, you have to be honest with yourself. I have some very good advisers who are able to look at my game and suggest work in this area or that area.
“I also watch a lot of snooker when I am not playing and that throws up things that I wonder if I can work on – very similar to things Neil has done ever since he came back over to the UK to have another go at the tour. He is relentless in trying to improve himself.
“I remember playing Neil in his first year as a professional, he came over from Australia, he had been touted as the next big thing but he wasn’t. He was poor and I beat him easily. But we all know the story, he came over with a couple of quid in his pocket and practised and practised.
“There are no tricks and short-cuts to success, he has paid the price and deserves his success now.”
Mark Allen, though going deep into yet another big tournament this season, spent far more time then he would have wished sitting in his chair at Alexandra Palace while Murphy reeled off six frames in a row in their semi-final.
And afterwards he said: “To be honest I played Shaun in a PTC/European Tour event probably about a year ago, just under maybe – and I sensed he had more confidence around the table.
“At the time I thought it was false confidence because he hadn’t been doing too much and was missing a lot of the long balls he was going for.
“But he has obviously got a game plan that he has been working hard on, to be more aggressive like he was when he first came on the scene. And it is paying off now. It didn’t on that particular day against me last year but after more work it is.
“The last year he is showing what he is capable of. Winning the world championship at the age he did was no mean feat and he looks like he is getting back to his best.
“The way he is cueing the ball, he looks like a man who is confident. At this Masters he looked like a man who knew he was going to win, whereas I looked like I was trying to win, that was the difference.
“Both Shaun and Neil, the two finalists at the Masters, have shown that desire and character to go away and work to get better. It’s something you have to have as a top player, you can’t stand still or rest on your laurels, and you reap the rewards in the long run by staying patient.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos