Shaun Murphy faces a battle in his quest to join an elite Crucible club at the Betfred World Championship.
The 2005 world champion is attempting to join Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams as the only players to have won the world title in Sheffield on more than one occasion.
Murphy was favourite going into yesterday’s final showdown with journeyman Stuart Bingham – who has triggered the nation’s imagination with shock wins over Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump to reach his first Crucible final in 20 years as a professional snooker player.
And after leading 3-0 and 8-4, Murphy, 32, looked set to reclaim a trophy – and with it a £300,000 top prize – he lifted a decade ago.
But Bingham refused to surrender and trailed overnight by just one frame, 9-8, in their best-of-35 frames encounter, which concludes today.
Murphy raced into a 3-0 lead in the afternoon and it looked bleak for Bingham, with fears he may just have run out of steam.
But the Essex cueman battled back to level 4-4 heading into the evening session.
Once more, Murphy was swiftly in control, breaks of 74, 106, 121 and 51 opening up an 8-4 gap.
But Bingham was not laying down, firing back with 76, 123 and 89 to make it 8-7.
The pair exchanged the last two frames of the evening and the scene was set for an intriguing contest when the match resumes this afternoon.
Bingham had gone into the final as the underdog just as he did in his previous two games when he knocked out the then title favourites.
First, he shocked five-times champion O’Sullivan in the last eight, then pipped Judd Trump 17-16 in a tense semi-final on Saturday evening.
Bingham – who says he has had “20 years of blood, sweat and tears” to reach his first Crucible final – was always in front against Trump.
But at 16-16, Trump looked set for victory only for a nasty kick to hand Bingham a chance, and the Shanghai Masters winner crawled over the line.
“At 16-16 the noise, the atmosphere and the adrenaline were brilliant,” said Bingham.
“To hold myself together in the end and to know I’m going to come out for the world final is unbelievable.
“When I turned pro 20 years ago I wanted to be world champion. I’ve had a lot of scars from getting beat and a few things have happened off the table. I lost my father-in-law, Terry, last year and saw my wife go through that.
“In the last few years I’ve won two ranking events and I felt good coming into this tournament.
“It’s going to be tough against Shaun; he has played some great stuff from day one here. I’ve just got to try to take my chances for the next two days. It will mean everything if I can do it. I will enjoy every second of it.
“The emotions are flowing, I’ve had a few tears already. I’ve had 20 years of blood, sweat and tears, and now I’m just enjoying the experience.”
Bingham made his Crucible debut in 2000, but it was only after winning the Australian Goldfields Open in 2011 that he realised his potential to climb into the world’s top 16 players.
In contrasting careers, Murphy stunned the sporting world in 2005 when he came through as a qualifier to lift the Crucible title. Having lived in Rotherham at the time of his success, Murphy has always been a crowd favourite due to his South Yorkshire links.
Now based in Nottingham, the current Masters champion – who lost to Higgins in the 2009 final – is desperate to add a second Crucible crown to his impressive CV. The 32-year-old has looked imperious during the opening 15 days, losing just 25 of the 78 frames he has played.
He thrashed Barry Hawkins 17-9 in his semi-final.
“It’s unbelievable – aside from winning the World Championship and the Masters, getting to the final here is the best feeling in snooker,” said Murphy.
“To have the opportunity to get your name on that trophy – even to touch it and be in the same room as it – is amazing. It’s hallowed turf for snooker players, so I’m buzzing.
“You realise that the next time you walk into that arena that it will be for real, and you know you’re going to go head-to-head with another great player for that trophy. I didn’t really take part in the 2009 final against Higgins, so to have another crack at it is what I’ve been dreaming of since then.
“It would mean more than winning it the first time if I was to win it again, I will be putting absolutely everything I’ve got into this match
“I’m just so lucky that I am getting to live my dreams. As a child I came here to watch the Championship for the first time in 1992 and I dreamed of walking out here,” he said.
“So to walk out in the final for a third time – it’s something I’m going to savour.
“I’m going to enjoy every minute of it, I’ll enjoy every little picture that I take with my mind, everybody I see in the audience, every shot. But when it comes down to play I will focus and give it my best.”