It was a match that seemed to be going one way, particularly during the evening session but then it turned into a real slobber knocker including a comeback, decider, flukes and the breaking of a long title absence for one of the two players involved. Let’s go through Murphy vs. Williams in the China Championship, shall we?
The first session wasn’t too notable in the general sense, so I’ll summarise. Murphy took Frames 1 and 2 in a couple of scrappy openers but the favour was returned by Williams taking the next two frames with breaks over 70 going into the midsession. It was then a constant back-and-forth between the players until the end of the afternoon session where Murphy was able to take a slim lead of 5-4. The opening session contained 2 of the 4 centuries in the match; one from each player. A wonderfully constructed 143 from Williams in Frame 7 and 133 from Murphy in the final frame of the session.
The evening session was where things dialled up. Frame 10 saw Murphy in with a chance first but an unfortunate kiss off the pink limited his contributions that frame. Williams developed a 54-15 to which Murphy made a valiant effort to clear the table up to the black, with 4 reds remaining. This break included some terrific pots, so well worth watching if you haven’t. It even saw a double-turned-triple from Murphy at the end but the karma was reciprocated with a tricky cut-back on the final black being Murphy’s demise.
Frames 11 and 12 went to Murphy with his breaks of 75 and 76 respectively. It was a shame for Williams since in Frame 12 he laid a brilliant safety shot against the cushion which would give any player significant trouble – but this was potted with authority by Murphy. Williams saw action first in Frames 13 and 14 but in each of these frames he was unsuccessful on his split attempts, giving Murphy the opportunity to make 103 and 79. Murphy has now taken 4 frames in succession, and the score line was now 9-5.
What I liked about the frame immediately after this was that Williams didn’t shy away from the fact that he was 9-5 down. He took on a risky opening pot in Frame 15, sunk it, made a break of 73 and completely shut Murphy out of the frame. All he did was break off.
Frame 16 commenced with a lengthy deliberation before any points were scored and this was also the frame where you probably saw the clips/highlights involving a major re-spot. Williams was glued in front of the green with the blue in the way of his original line which led to a mass scatter on top of a foul. Credit to Peggy Lee for handling the situation well and professionally.
A few more fouls conceded by Williams saw an erratic ‘just smack it’ kind of shot, which oddly enough ended up in a reasonable position. Funnily enough, Williams’s safety was far better after this shot. This led to a break of 43 and Williams getting some of those foul points back later in the frame. Murphy was unable to capitalise this frame and Williams was within two (9-7). That was just Frame 16.
Frame 17 was another lengthy frame similar to before which saw another ‘hit-and-hope’ type of shot from Williams. This sparked a ‘woah’ moment from the crowd. From 49-28 down, Williams sunk a wonderful long pot to get himself 50-49 up. He then laid a good snooker to take the frame. This was followed by the last century of the match – a 132 from Williams initiated via a gorgeous double into right centre. The score was 9-9.
Murphy, at this point, shocked that he’s even in a decider was able to hold his nerve at the right time to construct a break of 69. He couldn’t continue his break from where he was but potting the subsequent green put him 69 ahead with 67 remaining. Williams made a solid effort with a break of 30 and one red remaining but a loose snooker attempt enabled Murphy to see the match off by thumping in the final red.
This victory for Murphy sees his first title victory since the Champion of Champions in 2017. It was his third consecutive final this season, falling short at the International and at Shanghai, but sees him now rise to the top of the One-Year rankings. He is pretty much guaranteed qualification for the Coral Cup, especially if this form continues.
The China Championship win may be the catalyst in opening the floodgates for Murphy. In the Shanghai Masters final, I predicted that we would be seeing more of Murphy in finals this season, and he went and did that in his very next event. Murphy’s career centuries are now at 499 and he has proved to be quite the credible threat going into Triple Crowns this season.
As for Williams, he’s just being himself when it comes to his approach to competition but this run will give him the confidence to continue to make ranking finals. Before this, his last win was at the World Open last year. Besides that, he didn’t make it past the quarter-final until this tournament (not including Six-Reds).
Much like Robertson, Trump and O’Sullivan were the stars of last season, Shaun Murphy may be one for this season. I know it’s still very early to say, but if things keep going the way they are for him, and he can hold his nerve a little better going into later tournaments, he will have a place on Mount Rushmore for the 2019/20 season.