Luca Brecel has won his first ranking event title after a 10-5 victory over Shaun Murphy in the final of the China Championship on Tuesday.
The Belgian’s superb success also represents the first ranking tournament won by a player from mainland Europe, possibly signalling a new dawn for snooker in the continent.
Brecel headed into the final as the underdog against Murphy, who was chasing an eighth ranking glory of his own.
It appeared as though the latter was going to live up to his favourite’s tag when he thrived under the conditions early on to establish a 3-1 advantage at the mid-session interval – helped by a superb 107 century break and further runs of 68 and 55.
However, like he did in his quarter-final triumph against Ronnie O’Sullivan and then again when he was behind home hopeful Li Hang in the last four, Brecel began to dig deep and it immediately upset his opponent’s rhythm.
Murphy missed opportunities to extend his lead in each of the next three frames and the 22 year-old challenger duly punished him despite being unable to construct any meaningful breaks of his own.
Brecel won four frames on the bounce to lead 5-3 before Murphy sunk pink and black to claim the last frame of the session and trail by only one.
On many occasions, that reprieve could have initiated a turnaround in fortunes but Murphy, by far the more experienced competitor, still couldn’t get going upon the evening’s resumption of play and he failed to put any pressure on the former European amateur champion.
Brecel had only once before been in this situation when he featured in the final of the German Masters last year and lost to Martin Gould.
One would have forgiven him if he wilted a little under the intensity of possibly joining an illustrious band of ranking winners.
Yet, he mostly kept his composure well and, despite often failing to score heavily because of an inability to maintain his position when in amongst the balls, his temperament held steady.
Brecel continued to pick up the scraps that Murphy was leaving behind and pulled further clear to lead 9-5, before clearing the colours in the final frame for a deserved triumph against the English former world champion.
For Murphy, it’ll be a hugely disappointing conclusion to what was otherwise a decent event for the world number five, but he’ll surely rue what proved to be a tame display after a promising start in the final.
Brecel won’t mind a jot, though, and after six years as a professional finally fulfils the potential that so many labelled him with from an extremely early age.
Where he can go from here is truly up to him and the sky is the absolute limit given the obvious natural talent he possesses.
The “Bullet” jumps into the top 16 in the world rankings for the first time in his career, will qualify for the lucrative Champion of Champions, and is well placed to gain an invitation into the prestigious Masters in January.
Doors are opening for Brecel and he certainly has the style, game, and charisma to walk through them confidently.
Just how successful will he be, well it’ll be interesting to find out, but he’ll now head to the European Masters in his home country Belgium in October with a strut to his walk and silverware in his trophy cabinet.
Overall, the China Championship was a pretty disappointing event that won’t live long in the memory other than for it being Brecel’s breakthrough moment.
The venue was in a superb location bang in the centre of Guangzhou city, one of the most populated in China, but crowd levels were desperate on occasion and the quality of snooker for most of the week wasn’t at the highest standard.
Add to that the unusual schedule at the promoter’s request of starting the tournament on a Wednesday and climaxing on a Tuesday, and it’s one that can perhaps be written off as an experiment that doesn’t have to be toyed with again.
Brecel doesn’t care, though, as he pockets a cool £150,000 for his efforts in becoming a member of the ranking event winners club.