The 37-year-old became only the fifth player in the sport’s history to win the world title four times at the Crucible, joining Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins.
On the day when a capacity crowd returned to a UK sporting event for the first time in more than a year, due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Selby – whose previous Crucible wins came in 2014, 2016 and 2017 – and Murphy provided a clash of styles in Sheffield.
But it was the tactical nous of Selby which proved too much for Murphy – looking to bridge a 16-year gap since his own Crucible triumph – who had his chances, but failed to score heavily enough on a consistent basis, the Leicester cueman winning 18-15 and banking £500,000 prize money.
“To win four times is something you can only dream of,” said Selby. “It’s unbelievable really.
“A few years ago I had some really dark days, and times were tough.”
Snooker’s World Championship is part of the Government’s Events Research Programme, aimed to getting crowds back to live events.
And the neutral fans at the Crucible certainly seemed to be backing Murphy, who lived in neighbouring Rotherham when he won the 2005 world title.
Watching Murphy is like revisiting an old favourite book.
There’s something familiar and re-assuring – a bit like the welcome return of capacity crowds to this famous old theatre – when the 38-year-old stomps around the table, and launches long-range pots down the table. It evoked memories of 2005, when he came through the qualifiers as a raw 22-year-old to stun the sporting world and win the World Championship.
That form was enough to secure a fourth Crucible final spot, and the early signs were positive as Murphy took a 5-3 lead on Sunday. But he allowed himself to be dragged into a tactical scrap, which played into Selby’s hands, who eked out an overnight 10-7 advantage. If Murphy was to stand any chance of chasing down Selby, he needed to start scoring heavily when they resumed on Monday and an opening 77 was a good start.
But in the next two frames, Murphy was in the balls first, but failed to win at one visit.
A missed red to the corner, on 42, allowed Selby in to leave his opponent needing a snooker. Murphy achieved the snooker, fluked the blue, but left the black hanging over the centre pocket and Selby pounced.
In frame 20, Murphy’s initial 37 ended when he ran out of position on the black, but he left a superb snooker, with the white tucked behind the brown.
Selby eventually escaped, but a missed black saw Murphy claw it back to 11-9, and celebrate with a fist pump, reminiscent of his semi-final win over Kyren Wilson, when he battled back from 11-8 to win.
The Crucible crowd had not witnessed a century in the final in the opening 20 frames – surprising after the tournament had produced a record 103 centuries upto and including the semi-finals – but Selby pounced on a poor safety to knock in a 107 clearance.
It was the prelude to a strong run of improved scoring, and fluency. Selby fired in 54 and 50 to go 13-9 ahead, before Murphy responded with 100 and 56 to make it 13-11. But the three-time champion finished the afternoon session with breaks of 62 and 69 to restore his three-frame advantage.
The pair – both coached by Chris Henry – shared the evening’s opening four frames, a missed pink to the centre saw Selby pounce with a 66 break, before a 68 knock, only for Murphy to respond with a 43 clearance and 58 to go 16-13. Frame 30 spawned another long, drawn-out tactical battle, and Selby – who else – was the one to emerge winner, with a 130 clearance.
Murphy won the final eight frames to beat Wilson to reach the final, and needed to win the remaining five to deny Selby.
He responded with back-toback centuries, 100 and 103, and looked set to claw another frame back, but missed a tough red down the cushion and Selby scrambled over the winning line.
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