Qualifier Murphy clinches Crucible final

 

Snooker is celebrating a new star in Shaun Murphy as he became the first qualifier to win the Embassy World Championship for 26 years.

Murphy, based at nearby Rotherham, had never even won a match at the Crucible before this current tournament. But a combination of awesome potting power and a composure belying his 22 years enabled him to overcome three former champions before defeating Matthew Stevens 18-16 in a thrilling final.

Stevens must wonder what he has to do to claim his first world title and he will continue to be known as a Crucible nearly man until he achieves that objective. He surrendered the 2000 final against Mark Williams 18-16 after holding a 13-7 advantage and has also lost three semi-finals.

Murphy's startling triumph guaranteed him a stg£250,000 pay cheque - a stark contrast to his previous best of stg£15,000 for reaching the first round at Sheffield two years ago. He turned professional at the age of 15 and his potential has never been in doubt but now it has been fully realised on snooker's biggest stage.

Murphy cites his father Tony - a member of the World Snooker Board - and his new coach Steve Prest as the biggest influences on his career. But his own belief and confidence in his ability has been undiminished in defeating the impressive trio of John Higgins, Steve Davis and Peter Ebdon.

Only on the first day of the final did nerves appear to unsettle the world number 48 as Stevens established a 10-6 overnight lead.

Murphy had been back to his best in the afternoon session to dispel any thoughts that Stevens may run away with the contest. He immediately started to display the potting power which had deserted him temporarily on Sunday, although he was aided by some poor safety play from his opponent. He won five of the seven afternoon frames with the aid of breaks of 51, 56, 80 and a magnificent 137 clearance in frame 21. He ended the session only 12-11 in arrears and quickly set about his opponent when play resumed.

Another hundred - a 107 in frame 24 - brought him level and then a run of 55 in the next put him ahead for the first time since the opening frame of the contest. It was now Stevens' turn to respond and a superb red down the rail was the opening ball in a 95 break - only for Murphy to strike back with 64 to nose in front 14-13 at the interval. At that stage the initiative was definitely with Murphy and a 68 clearance to the black increased his lead after Stevens had missed an awkward pink into the middle pocket.

The quality of the play was now at its highest in the final, despite the obvious tension, and a 68 from Stevens halved his deficit only for a run of 64 from Murphy to take him within two frames of the title. Stevens' resolve could not be questioned on this occasion and in the next he earned rapturous applause from the capacity 900 audience for a 124 to the black.

It was the 63rd ton of the tournament - only five behind the all-time record of 68 set three years ago.

When Stevens put together a 52 in the next, the match effectively became a best-of-three-frame decider. Murphy, a 150-1 outsider at the start of the tournament, again went ahead with a superb 97 break in frame 33. That left him just one frame away from glory and he was among the balls again in the next when Stevens missed a red into the middle bag. It was a question now of whether he could hold his nerve and his coach Steve Prest in the audience could not bear to watch proceedings.

But Murphy looked as cool as a cucumber and the Crucible erupted when he potted the penultimate red to leave his opponent needing snookers. Murphy then made sure of his first world crown by rolling the final red down the rail into the black pocket. His break advanced to 83 before a sporting Stevens conceded and hugged his conqueror.

PA