SHAUN MURPHY feels he has changed for the better as a person in the ten years since winning the world title but he remains a fearsome talent on the snooker table, as he proved by completing a 17-9 semi-final victory over Barry Hawkins at the Crucible in Sheffield on Saturday.
Murphy is thus in his third Betfred World Championship final, six years after he was beaten by John Higgins and a decade on from triumphing against Matthew Stevens.
The Murphy of 2005 was 22, very self-confident but lacking experience of the outside world to support his worldview having been self-contained in a snooker bubble since boyhood.
At 32, it is clear he has mellowed considerably, learned a few lessons along the way and emerged as a more rounded individual.
He still has firm opinions but expresses them politely. He engages with snooker fans online and takes time to do interviews and generally support the game.
As far as Murphy is concerned, he is living the dream. He is playing snooker for a living at the very highest level, something he always wanted to do.
Moreover, he is cueing superbly at this year’s World Championship and is in better shape than at any point in the last ten years to be world champion again.
The shackles have come off his game and he feels more confident to be going for the raking long pots, backing himself to get them. He is playing to his own strengths, not worrying about his opponents.
He did all the damage in the semi-final early on. Hawkins seemed fatigued by his epic 13-12 battle with Neil Robertson the previous night and going on first on the Thursday was not good for him.
Nevertheless, Murphy played really well and then even better during the second session, in which he pulled away from 6-2 to 13-3. Hawkins did start to play much better from there but it was too far back.
So Murphy can put his feet up tonight as Judd Trump and Stuart Bingham battle it out, although his work ethic has been strong at the Crucible this year. He says he is invariably in practising first thing in the morning.
Everyone wants to win the world title but it’s clear Murphy really wants it this year, and furthermore feels he is playing well enough to win it.
He says it would mean more than his first in 2005, when he went from virtual unknown to sporting champion over 17 days in Sheffield. The ten years since have featured peaks and troughs on and off the table but he has come out the other side with his game resurgent and fully determined to land snooker’s most coveted prize once again.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.