Shaun Murphy became the first player to book a semi-final place in the Champion of Champions as the 2018 edition got under way on Monday in Coventry.
The defending champion, who has not shown a lot of form since suffering a surprising first round exit at the World Snooker Championship in April, edged debutant Jimmy Robertson in the first round 4-2 before a 6-3 victory over Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
Murphy scored well in both of his matches at the Ricoh Arena as he rekindled some of the standard that helped him emerge with the trophy at the expense of Ronnie O’Sullivan twelve months ago.
The “Magician” was especially impressive in sections of his encounter with Ding, who gained an invitation into the Champion of Champions despite having not won any silverware in the last year and initially took advantage by overcoming Snooker Shoot Out champion Michael Georgiou in the last 16.
Murphy took the opening two frames with breaks of 79 and 80 before a succession of scrappier frames either side of the mid-session interval all went the Chinese number one’s way.
However, after going 3-2 behind Murphy shifted through the gears again and reeled off runs of 118, 88, 110, and 65 in a frantic finish to stun his opponent, who could do little to prevent his exit.
It continues a disappointing start to the 2018/19 campaign for Ding, who did reach the final of the Six Red World Championship and the last four of the Shanghai Masters but has struggled to be a contender in any of the other tournaments he’s featured in.
Murphy, though, advances to the semi-finals this week hoping to become only the second player after O’Sullivan to successfully defend a Champion of Champions crown.
It could very well be the “Rocket” that stands in his way of a final berth as O’Sullivan, winner in 2013 and 2014 and a four-time finallist overall, gets going in the second bracket on Tuesday.
The 42 year-old entertains Stuart Bingham first before a potential clash with familiar foe John Higgins in the last eight, albeit the Scot must first manoeuvre past the tricky test of Ryan Day.