FOCUS ON...SHAUN MURPHY
Shaun Murphy has been world champion, UK champion and is a player often tipped to win titles based on his professional approach to tournaments as well as his rock solid game.
All this said, it’s worth pointing out that he only has three ranking titles to his name.
I say ‘only’ – this is a little unfair. It’s not as if they come along every week. He has also won three invitation titles. Even so, it’s a lower return than might have been expected after Murphy’s sensational capture of the world title in 2005.
To come through the pack like he did was a surprise but that he would make it at the top level was not for anyone who had known Shaun since he was young.
His entire focus as a boy was to make it as a professional. When he first appeared at the Crucible he said it was his ambition to one day be mentioned in the same breath as Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry.
Some journalists – no doubt I was one of them – wondered if this teenager had ideas above his station. But although he hasn’t achieved the domination Davis and Hendry did in their respective heydays, Murphy is what all the many thousands of pros, wannabe pros and young amateurs have dreamt of being: world champion.
To produce the standard of snooker he did on the game’s greatest stage against much more experienced opponents was one of the great achievements of the last decade, indeed of any decade.
He lost 17-16 to Mark Selby in the semi-finals in 2007, 18-9 in the final to John Higgins in 2009 and 13-12 to Ali Carter in the quarter-finals last season.
I’d fancy Murphy to be there or there abouts at the Crucible for the next few years.
Last season, he dropped four places down the rankings to seventh.
In truth, though, there’s far too much focus on the rankings at the top end. What difference does it make whether a player is fifth or sixth or seventh? Who cares?
Of course, dropping out of the top four makes a difference in seedings but when the top players meet it’s all on the day. Murphy doesn’t suddenly become a heavy second favourite against, say, Neil Robertson just because he’s now below him on the list.
Dropping out of the top four may, however, be a psychological setback. Players want to keep on the up and up but Murphy has slipped back. The good news, though, is that with the new ranking system he can bounce back straightaway instead of having to wait a whole season.
And as he didn’t win a match in any of the 2008 Northern Ireland Trophy, Shanghai Masters and Grand Prix there won’t be many points to come off when the list is revised in October.
Murphy has always given the impression of being a wise head on young shoulders but off table pressures – the break up of his marriage and subsequent relocation to Sale – clearly had an impact on his form.
He isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (who is?) but from what I’ve seen he’s always been a good pro: signing autographs, chatting to fans, posing for photographs.
In his year as world champion he was always available for media interviews and willing to promote his sport.
There have been well documented (very well in some cases) incidents in the arena where his opponents have not always been enamoured by Murphy. He isn’t alone in this and, of course, there’s no taking back what has happened once it’s happened.
Some people still bang the drum that there are no ‘characters’ (without ever defining what they actually mean by that term) but I’d say Murphy is a fascinating character.
Socially, he is one of the easiest players to chat to. He’s friendly and laidback and yet seems to wind a lot of snooker fans up.
Perhaps they regard his persona is insincere. Knowing Shaun, I don’t believe it is but I also like a bit of tribalism in sport: heroes and villains, as in any drama, is what keeps people coming back for more.
Murphy turns 28 this year, not young in snooker terms but not old either.
The next five years or so is where you would expect him to enjoy the majority of his success.
He remains one of the few players in the game I would be wary of betting against but his consistency seems to have declined in the last couple of seasons – he has lost some matches in this period that few would have predicted – and that is what he will be looking to recapture in the new campaign.
That and titles: the ultimate measure of a snooker player.
To me what characterises Shaun Murphy's public persona is an incredible self-belief, a sense of inner security and certainty not many human feel and even less dare to show. So much so in fact that it rubs people the wrong way, that he comes across as arrogant, intolerant and self-righteous at times. I think he's mellowed a bit after his marriage broke up though. Such feeling of inner security certainly is a big help to his game. To be fair to Shaun he has the matching very high professional standard be it at the table or when he faces the press or the fans.
Will he ever be a Hendry or Davis, a dominant player? IMO no. Will he be a Williams, John Higgins or Ronnie, players who didn't really dominate but still have an impressive record, multiple world champions? Maybe but I strongly doubt it.
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