The last match of the championship starts today. The Final will be played by two former World Champions, both in their late thirties: Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby.
Here are WST reports on the last session(s) of each semi-final:
Marvellous Murphy Storms Into Final
Shaun Murphy came from 10-4 down to beat Kyren Wilson 17-12 and reach the final of the Betfred World Championship for the fourth time.
Wilson looked by far the stronger player in the early stages but the contest turned at the end of the second session when Murphy stole two frames to go from 10-4 to 10-6. World number six Wilson later led 12-9 but from that point Murphy gathered momentum and raced over the finishing line in the concluding session, making five breaks over 50.
Murphy goes through to face Mark Selby over a possible 35 frames on Sunday and Monday for the trophy and top prize of £500,000. Having won the title in 2005, he is aiming to join an elite group of just six other players to have held the silverware more than once at the Crucible.
World number seven Murphy has lost two of his three previous Sheffield finals; he was runner-up to John Higgins in 2009 and Bingham in 2015. The 38-year-old will be aiming for a tenth career ranking title from his 22nd ranking final.
Murphy’s performance over the past fortnight is a reversal of fortunes given how poor his form has been for much of the season. He has reached just one other ranking event semi-final, and before this event lay 18th on the one-year ranking list.
Adversely affected by lockdown more than most due to restrictions at his base in Dublin, his usual dedication to practice has suffered. But Murphy has found a wave of inspiration at his favourite venue, and has followed up his victory over world number one Judd Trump in the quarter-finals with another flamboyant display of long potting and break-building.
His swagger and confidence around the table are back in abundance while his attacking approach brings back memories of his greatest triumph 16 years ago.
Wilson finished runner-up to Ronnie O’Sullivan last year and must have believed he could go one better this time after beating Neil Robertson to reach the last four. But he made too many errors from 10-4 up against Murphy and the 29-year-old’s ultimate ambition of conquering the Crucible remains unfulfilled.
Murphy took the first frame of the final session with a break of 78 to lead 13-12. Wilson had first chance in the next and made 35 before suffering a slice of misfortune as he potted a red and split the pack only for the cue ball to go in-off. Murphy punished him with a 91 clearance.
Runs of 117 and 77 put Murphy 16-12 ahead at the interval. A break of 58 gave him control of frame 29, and he clinched victory with a shot which summed up his evening, planting one red on to another to double it across the table into a centre pocket.
“Apart from winning the tournament, this is the best feeling you get in snooker,” said Murphy. “Will I sleep tonight? I’m not sure. My game is in really good shape. I have run into people playing out of their skin this season, but this fortnight things have gone my way. I was 6-2 and 10-4 down but I kept telling myself the finish line was still a long way off. In matches of that length there is always ebb and flow.
“The crowd has made a massive difference, they have been my 12th man. They have fed me and I have tried to give them a bit back. I have always needed that big stage. All the top psychologists say you have got to enjoy it out there to perform to your best. There have been times this season where I have not really enjoyed it. But I have this week.
“It would mean the absolute world to win a second title. It would be a thrill to be in that club of players who have won it more than once. I’ll be second favourite in the final and that suits me down to the ground.”
Wilson said: “Shaun’s long potting – he was going for shots a lot of players wouldn’t look at and just hammering them home. When he gets that Rolls Royce cue action going he is hard to stop. The frame at 10-5 was huge, he raked in a long red and made it look easy.
“I am having to hold myself back from throwing the microphone out of the window. I am raging. I came here to win the tournament, not to get to the semi-finals. I’m still knocking on the door and I’ll be back next year.”
Wilson admitted he was annoyed by Murphy’s fist-pumping celebrations in the arena at certain moments of the match.
“I think it looks a bit silly, it’s not for me,” he added. “He has to do what he can to try to get to me, I suppose. I’m not going to say that did. Fair play, he used his experience and he’s a great champion.”
Losing by 17-12 when 10-4 up is quite unusual and certainly hurts. Shaun Murphy’s fist pumps compounded it all. I have a bit of ambiguous feelings when it comes to fist pumps, and not just in snooker. If a sportsperson does it aiming at their opponents and looking at them straight in the eyesI hate it because I feel it’s an aggression. But this was not what Shaun was doing. He was pumping himself up and getting the crowd excited.
Granite Selby Battles Past Bingham
Mark Selby, snooker’s fiercest competitor, beat Stuart Bingham 17-15 in the Betfred World Championship semi-finals, continuing his bid for a fourth Crucible crown.
Selby will face Shaun Murphy over four sessions on Sunday and Monday, and first to 18 frames will have their name engraved on the iconic trophy. Selby’s name is already there, next to the years 2014, 2016 and 2017. Another victory would lift him higher in the pantheon of all-time greats; only Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Steve Davis and John Higgins have won it more than three times at the Crucible.
The 37-year-old Leicester cueman will be playing in his fifth Sheffield final, having lost his first to Higgins back in 2007. The omens favour Selby – he beat Murphy 17-16 in their semi-final clash at the Crucible that year, and also came out on top 10-6 when they met in the 2012 UK Championship final, and 9-7 in the 2015 German Masters final. The pair have been friends since their junior days but neither will budge an inch over the next two days of combat on the baize.
World number four Selby will be competing in his 30th ranking final and aiming for his 20th title. A loss of form and confidence in 2019 is well behind him – with the help of coach Chris Henry he has rebuilt his status as a feared opponent. The disappointment of a 17-16 defeat against Ronnie O’Sullivan at the same stage in Sheffield last year was softened when he won the European Masters and Scottish Open earlier this season.
With a watertight all-round game and unrivalled powers of concentration, Selby will start favourite in a final in which his opponent may come at him with all guns blazing. Betfred make Selby 1/2, with Murphy 13/8.
Bingham had the initiative when he won five frames in a row to lead 12-9, but couldn’t press home the advantage and carry on his bid to become the only qualifier to win the title other than Terry Griffiths in 1979 and Murphy in 2005. He misses out on the chance to compete for a second Crucible crown, having won it in 2015, but at least has the consolation of a cheque for £100,000 which restores his position among the world’s top 16.
Selby led 16-15 when the match was halted at the end of the afternoon session. They returned three hours later and Selby made a break of 41, then Bingham had a chance to clear but ran out of position in potting the last red. Selby took the upper hand in a tactical battle on the colours when he trapped his opponent in a tough snooker on the green. Bingham missed it five times, and on the last occasion left a chance. Selby slotted the green into a baulk corner, and cleared to the pink to seal victory.
“It feels incredible to get to another world final,” said Selby. “It was such a tough game, Stuart is a great player. It’s strange to think he came here as a qualifier because when he’s like that he is definitely a top eight player. I was just hanging on to his coat tails all the way through and then managed to turn it around at the end.
“At 16-15 I was quite calm because if someone had offered me that at 13-11 down I would have taken it. I felt good in my game. Stuart made an unbelievable clearance to go 16-15. Then in the last frame I had a bit of run to get over the line.
“All the hours I put in on the practice table, all the sacrifices being away from home and the family – getting to a world final makes it all worthwhile. I need to be on top of my game because Shaun is playing as well as he has for a long time. We grew up together, there is only one year between us. We used to play together at Willie Thorne’s club when I was 14 and he was 15. We are still battling now.”
Bingham felt that Selby had deliberately slowed down the flow of the game at certain points in the tie. He said: “One shot took three minutes, then he just rolled into the balls. It’s close to gamesmanship. You have to question that. Does he do it on purpose or what? I wanted a free flowing game. In some frames a ball went over the pocket and we weren’t going to give each other a chance. It’s tough to lose a close game like that. Fair play to Mark, he came out firing today and deserved his win. I had one of those days.”
Whether Mark Selby’s lenghty pondering over shots is gamesmanship, overthinking or a kind of paralysis of the mind facing a stressful situation, only him will know. I have met Mark and spoken to him many times over the years. He’s always been friendly and always came across as a very decent bloke. One conversation we had at the 2011 German Masters remains vivid in my memory. Mark at the time was winning a lot of matches especially in PTCs, He was on his way be become World number one. Yet, there he was sitting looking flat. I asked him if he was ok, adding that he should fill confident given the results he was getting. His answer was a sigh and “If you say so…”. It occured to me that he was definitely NOT feeling the way myself, and probably many fans, expected him to feel under the circumstances. Feelings are not a rational thing, they are not always a reflection of the actual situation the person is in but they they are no less real for the said person going through them.