After each big tournament this season we’ll be reflecting on the latest action, so let’s take a look at a few things learned after the China Championship.
Murphy CAN Win….Just
Shaun Murphy finally righted an unusual streak that had him continuously on the losing side of big finals in recent years.
Despite being a former world, UK, and Masters champion, Murphy had developed an undesirable label of being a bit of a choker in title deciders.
The 37 year-old’s run of defeats ironically began in the China Championship two years ago when he lost to Luca Brecel in the 2017 final.
Murphy’s losses accumulated in five further ranking event showdowns for glory while he was also denied by Ronnie O’Sullivan in this month’s invitational Shanghai Masters at the same hurdle.
It looked as though history might repeat itself as Sunday’s opponent Mark Williams staged a remarkable comeback from 9-5 down to force a decider.
Murphy was looking increasingly nervous but, to his credit, fired in an excellent long red in the last frame en route to the timely break of 69 that finally took him beyond the winning line.
The triumph represents the Englishman’s eighth at this level and, after the China Championship, Murphy must be considered as the player of the season so far.
Vafaei Vying for Breakthrough
Hossein Vafaei may have ended up losing his dramatic semi-final affair with Mark Williams but the Iranian is showing signs that a breakthrough is imminent.
Vafaei has been long-tipped as a possible star, ever since winning the IBSF World Championship at amateur level in 2011 and the world under-21 title three years later.
The Iranian has often struggle to find consistency because of visa problems but his performances in Guangzhou have guaranteed his rise into the top 32 in the world rankings for the first time.
Vafaei has three semi-final appearances in ranking events under his belt – a couple in 2019 – and the 25 year-old is getting closer to taking the next step up the professional ladder.
Whether or not he’ll be able compete with the highest echelons on a regular basis remains to be seen but Vafaei definitely boasts the kind of talent required to challenge for a title in his career.
There has been an increase in the number of first-time winners on the Main Tour in the last five or so years and Vafaei would be up there alongside the likes of Jack Lisowski and David Gilbert as probable contenders in that regard.
Who’d be a Referee?
If there’s one other thing worth pointing out after the China Championship final, it was the admirable performance of referee Peggy Li.
Arguably the most respected and experienced Chinese official on the tour, Li’s skills were put to the test in a marathon 16th frame on Sunday.
With Williams trailing 9-6, the Welshman found himself hampered by the green with the pack of reds to aim for but completely mishit the attempted safety, hit a colour first, and scattered the balls everywhere.
“I’m sorry,” was Murphy’s timid offering as he asked for the balls to be replaced.
Li didn’t get every single one back into its perfect position but did manage to calmly assert her authority on the two players, both then and also during a foul and a miss situation later on.
In a chaotic spell, members of the audience later decided it was appropriate to walk into the front rows of the seats after a frame had already begun.
Li, helped by an understanding Murphy, let them away with it but it’s a wonder how Ronnie O’Sullivan would have reacted in the same position.
Earlier in the week, one of the referees drew some criticism from Eurosport commentator David Hendon for giving an ill-timed warning.
Barry Hawkins had apparently been taking notes from the Michael White school of fashion, playing a frame with his shirt untucked.
Immediately after missing a crucial frame ball pink, the referee in question showed little mercy and immediately directed the “Hawk” to smarten up.
Rules are rules, although waiting until the frame had finished might have been the more appropriate tactic to employ.
Who’d be a referee, eh!
Barry Hawkins missed the pink to win frame seven and was immediately told by the referee to tuck his shirt in. What nonsense is this? They’re sportsmen, not schoolboys. Use some common sense.
— David Hendon (@davehendon) September 27, 2019
Very happy to read praise (and well deserved, too!) about a referee here. They’re way too often overlooked in snooker coverage. And so tactful to omit naming the ref in the second recounted scene!