Higgins v Murphy: Final Thoughts

So here we are, from the 32 players we had in the tournament just 15 days ago, now we have just two – world number three Shaun Murphy and world number five John Higgins. Here are a few of my thoughts ahead of the final…

After a slow start to the tournament with just two seeded players losing out in round one, it has developed into a really exciting event with shocks, centuries and of course that 147 from Stephen Hendry in the quarter-finals. At one stage it looked like both the semi-finals might turn out to be a bit one-sided but well done to both Mark Allen and Neil Robertson for their respective comebacks, even if both were to prove unsuccessful.

I do have to admit though, while I would have been happy to see any of the four players in the semis progress to the final, I am particularly pleased that both Higgins and Murphy made it because I feel that they have been the two standout performers during this tournament and offer for me the most interesting final line-up.

Head to head

John and Shaun have met six times previously and as you might expect with the age difference between the two, it was John Higgins who won their early encounters with a 5-2 victory in round 3 of the 2003 LG Cup and then a 6-0 whitewash in the semi-finals of the 2004 British Open.

Their next meeting however was probably their most famous so far as on the way to his first world crown, Shaun came through 13-8 in the last 16 of the 2005 World Championship to defeat his more experienced opponent. Adding a victory in the subsequent Pot Black competition, they were then level at 2-2 in their personal head to head.

Since then though it has been John who has come through in their next two meetings at the 2006 Masters and the 2008 World Series event in Berlin and so leads 4-2 in their personal battle, if you include that Pot Black meeting won by Shaun.

Higgins for the hat-trick?

Now in his fourth final having won two of his previous three, John Higgins will be looking to Join Ronnie O’Sullivan as a three-time champion of snooker’s biggest prize – but has he got anything left?

It has been quite a ride for John this week, winning a match against Michael Holt that in truth was probably closer than the 10-5 scoreline suggested, before those two epic come-backs to defeat both Jamie Cope and Mark Selby 13-12 to reach the semi-finals. Because of the effort he had put in to reach the last four I predicted that he would start sluggishly against Mark Allen before wearing him down but in the end it proved to be the exact opposite as John just about got over the line having at one point led 13-3!

It has been noted before that John’s physical fitness might not be quite as good as it could be, though I have to confess I did love his response to those claims on his Snooker Scene podcast recently where he suggested that Peter Ebdon swims so many miles a day and he’s lost a lot of matches this season so perhaps it is not so crucial. Ultimately though I guess if anything is going to catch John out that it will be mental fatigue, not physical fatigue as it must be difficult to keep on making these comebacks each day and then have to do it all over again straight after.

But then again John is one of the most experienced players in the game and as a twice former winner here, knows exactly what it takes to win and is capable of doing it again. As far as his game is concerned he looks to have been in pretty good shape to me, his pot success and safety success being well up above 90% and when it really matters, producing some brilliant breaks that I don’t think that many other players in the field would have been capable of. He might have struggled to kill off his match with Mark Allen in the semis but I don’t personally see that as being a major factor. Leading someone by over ten frames it must have been hard for him to maintain his focus and I can’t imagine that this will be an issue in a world final!

If he can maintain a high level and play strong, consistent matchplayer snooker, then it will be very difficult for Shaun to stop him…

Second for Shaun?

But if there is one player in the tournament who I think can stop him, then it is Shaun Murphy who for me has probably played the best snooker in reaching what is his second world final following that remarkable triumph back in 2005.

He might have struggled at times this season and he might have looked well off his game against Andrew Higginson in the last 32 here, but he was much improved against Marco Fu and against Stephen Hendry produced some sensational snooker to edge past the seven times champion and into the last four. Like John it looked like he might cruise to victory with relative ease against his opponent Neil Robertson but from 2-0, 4-2, 9-5 and 14-7 up, he could not quite kill the match off and he soon found himself at 14-14 earlier this evening.

Like the champion that he is though (and like Higgins against Cope/Selby), he dug deep when he really had to and responded with three fabulous frames to re-assert himself on the match and take a well-deserved 17-14 victory. He might not be the most popular player on the tour but that was class in anybody’s book.

His cue action is an absolute dream, there are few better in the game at the moment who are playing as well as Shaun and as was said in commentary tonight, this will stand him in good stead should the match go close. As far as his statistics are concerned, his pot success has been pretty high and until his semi-final, so was his safety success, but he will certainly have to improve on this against someone as tactically astute as John. More positively though, his rest success was phenomenally high during his match with Robertson, as was his long pot success which was up at around 70%. As was the case in 2005, if Murphy is knocking those in consistently then he is going to be tough to beat…


So who do I think will win? It’s a tough one to call because with John being for me the best tactical player in the game at present, I feel that he is likely to have the upper hand in the scrappy frames, whilst Murphy is looking lethal from distance and I fancy him to perhaps just have the edge in the scoring against John.

On paper I feel that Higgins, being so vastly experienced, strong under pressure and of course ranked a clear number one on the one-year rankings is probably the favourite, but I’m going to go for Shaun to win his second world title. Barring half a session against Neil Robertson tonight he looks to be cueing very nicely and perhaps more importantly, he has a look about him that to me suggests he has total belief and is of a mind that he is here to take the title and that nobody is going to stop him. With the ability to back up the belief, I can see him taking what is all set to be a thriller…