It was a case of third time lucky for Shaun Murphy in finals this season as he held off Ronnie O’Sullivan’s late fight back for a 10-8 Champion of Champions victory on Sunday.
The Englishman, who had never even won a match at the Coventry invitational in four previous attempts, took home the £100,000 winner’s cheque as well as collecting what is arguably his most prestigious trophy since he completed the Triple Crown by winning the Masters almost three years ago.
Indeed, the Champion of Champions and the Masters are similar in the sense that they both only invite 16 elite performers to compete for the top prize.
In the latter it’s the top 16 in the world rankings, while last week’s competition at the Ricoh Arena assembled all the tournament winners from the prior twelve months.
Murphy had qualified off the back of his Gibraltar Open success towards the end of the last season and since then he has featured in two other ranking event final showdowns – losing out on glory to Luca Brecel in the China Championship and Michael White in the Paul Hunter Classic.
Yet, he was deservedly the last man standing on this occasion after just about prevailing against the two-time former champion O’Sullivan.
O’Sullivan had been an overwhelming favourite going into the fixture, especially considering their previous battles with one another that predominantly concluded in one-sided victories for the “Rocket”.
To add further spice to the occasion, there hasn’t exactly been a genuine friendship ever struck between the pair with several backhanded comments launched in the opposite direction down through the years.
It looked as though the form book would repeat itself when O’Sullivan got off to a lightning start by taking the opening two frames with runs of 97 and 98.
However, by the end of the first session O’Sullivan was a little fortunate to come out of it trailing by only one frame after Murphy went on a four-frame winning burst that included breaks of 70, 85, and 53.
While neither player produced their very best in the scoring department, the outcome of the tie arguably hinged on a few key frames that Murphy was able to snatch on the final black.
The 2005 world champion pinched the third frame on the final ball when it looked like he could be facing a 3-0 deficit while he crucially won the last frame of the afternoon session in the same manner to lead 5-4.
That seemed to spur the 35 year-old on upon the resumption of play and he constructed breaks of 86 and 74 to pull four frames clear at 8-4.
After the duo shared the following two frames, Murphy was seemingly on the brink of one of his biggest ever career triumphs but was made to wait as O’Sullivan began to show some fighting qualities.
The 2013 and 2014 champion, who had only lost one match out of his prior 15 in the event, compiled the encounter’s only century break either side of knocks of 54 and 68 to get back to within one frame.
It looked for all money as though it was going to be a decider but O’Sullivan missed frame ball green in a tense finish before Murphy dramatically cleared the colours to finally get his hands on the trophy.
Murphy perhaps doesn’t quite get the recognition he deserves for his achievements throughout his career.
Although a world champion, he is probably not regarded as highly as the likes of Ding Junhui, Judd Trump, or Neil Robertson, but he has emerged with plenty of titles in his career – including practically all the major ones.
His windfall for beating O’Sullivan won’t count towards his standing in the rankings but surely the confidence gained from overcoming the former world number one on such a big stage in front of a boisterous crowd will do him wonders heading into the remainder of the campaign.
Murphy can take a week off to reflect on his success after he failed to qualify for this week’s Shanghai Masters in China.
That might be a blessing in disguise as he can now properly enjoy his winning moment with his family.
By contrast, O’Sullivan must come back down to earth by immediately jetting off to Asia for his first round tie with Gary Wilson in Shanghai – a match that has been pushed back until Wednesday to give the 2009 champion more opportunity to recover.
Knowing Murphy, who boasts genuine passion for the game, he’ll probably continue to watch the Shanghai Masters with interest despite his absence from China’s second longest-running event.
He can do so plenty richer and with a monumental victory over the sport’s biggest star to his credit.