THE week of miraculous comebacks has spawned another – even the Magician Shaun Murphy won’t be able to believe how he managed to turn this match his way.
It will go down in the legend of the williamhill.com UK Championship’s greatest comebacks.
A frame away from exiting, Murphy trailed Ali Carter 8-4 and looked down and out before reeling off five on the spin to clutch victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat.
He’d suffered some horrific luck – two outrageous flukes giving the Essex player two frames in the afternoon session – but he had also repeatedly handed away the advantage. Too many times he had been in among the balls and let a careless shot be his undoing. He looked buried.
Carter, meanwhile, had been ruthless and, with that four-frame advantage, was a massive favourite to make tomorrow’s final. But the interval seemed to do something to him. The realisation he was just a frame from victory appeared to put him on the defensive.
He turned down a difficult, but pottable, black that would have put him in early command of the 13th frame and, after that went Murphy’s way, he then spurned a red into the bottom pocket in the next.
Murphy had no such qualms – smashing it in on his way to trailing by just two frames.
Another terrific long pot paved the way for Murphy’s most beautiful break of the match, a masterful 105 that brought him within one of Carter and he levelled with a fantastic 78, marked by a wonderful cut red into the middle pocket, in the next.
Nerves abounded in a dramatic final frame. Both players had chances – Carter breaking down on 28 after missing a red with the rest and Murphy running out of position when getting his nose barely in front.
In the end it was Murphy with the better nerve, just. He drained an outstanding red to the middle but almost overcut the black – the ball wobbling in the jaws before dropping and sending the world number four into ecstasy.
Carter had gone into the evening session 5-3 ahead and it was tough, combative snooker that had pushed him into the ascendancy. That said, he’d also had more than a slice of luck.
Murphy looked deadly from range, firing in a succession of outstanding pots throughout the session, but the pair were locked at 2-2 at the break – Carter’s 77 answered with 89.
Carter then moved 4-2 ahead following a century in the sixth.
Aiming to slot a red into the middle pocket, he hit the ball at pace and watched as it came back off the jaws and fell into a baulk pocket.
What followed though was a majestic 101. Fighting to keep the cue ball under control, particularly early in the break, Carter sunk a series of excellent shots to take full advantage of his fortune.
Murphy has talked this week about going back to his attacking roots and playing the kind of aggressive snooker that helped him burst onto the scene in such amazing fashion when winning the World Championship seven years ago.
In the seventh frame, the Barbican crowd saw exactly what he meant. A brilliant long red, stunning the white to hold for the pink, opened up a Murphy showreel of crowd-pleasing efforts.
But if Carter couldn’t cope with the ball striking masterclass from Murphy, he was clearly winning the safety battle early on.
Even so, he needed another slice of fortune to take the last frame of the afternoon when an attempted safety saw the red pass across the table and drop into a corner pocket.
A battle royale was anticipated in the evening.
It was Carter, however, who threatened to overwhelm Murphy. He could have won all four frames before the break but settled for three – runs of 79, 80 and 40 leaving him only one frame short of the winning line.
The interval came at the worst possible time, though, and a revitalised Murphy waved his cue Harry Potter-style to execute a wonderful recovery.