Stuart Bingham completed an astonishing transformation from journeyman to king of the Crucible as he brilliantly beat Shaun Murphy to take the Betfred World Championship title.
The 38-year-old from Basildon defied expectations to see off Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump to reach his first final in Sheffield, and pulled off a stunning 18-15 triumph, finishing with a break of 88 as wife Michelle watched on with a huge smile across her face. Even before the break was finished Bingham punched the air in jubilation.
Bingham was joined on the floor by son Shae and later his wife as he soaked in the moment, which earned him a £300,000 cheque and the trophy every player desires.
It made him the oldest world champion since Ray Reardon, at 45, won in 1978.
“It’s unreal,” Bingham said. “At 15-15 I thought my chance was gone, my arm felt like someone else’s and the nerves had got to me.
“You dream of it as a kid playing and practising when you start out, but it’s a reality now.
“I was so overwhelmed just to get into the final. Just to witness the final and experience it was great, I didn’t care if I won or lost.”
He had not clocked he was over the winning line in the final frame, until spectators reacted.
“The crowd clapped and then I looked at the score and realised. I thought I needed another red and colour,” he said.
“It’s unbelievable to be sitting here as world champion.”
Bingham for the most part showed the composure of a player who had been playing Crucible finals for many years, rather than one who in eight previous visits had reached the quarter-final stage only once, which was the reality.
For the bulk of his career, Bingham has been a rank-and-file cueman, with contesting finals or even semi-finals a pipe dream until something clicked in his mid-thirties. Fifteen years ago he caused a sensation by beating defending champion Stephen Hendry in the first round at the World Championship, however for five years in a row, beginning in 2003, he failed to even qualify.
Landing a pair of ranking titles, in Australia and then China, has marked him out as a dangerman, but not even Bingham was expecting this.
He trailed 3-0 and 8-4 against Murphy, but crucially got back to 9-8 behind after Sunday’s play, and powered 15-12 ahead on Monday.
Murphy was on a quest to become the sixth man to win more than once at the Crucible, following his success a decade ago. His idol Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are the players with multiple wins.
He got back to 15-all, but gave away 38 points in fouls in the next frame, after being put in two problematic snookers, and when attempting to escape from a third he left Bingham the yellow. It had reached an hour in duration when the pair took a toilet break, with the frame still unresolved, never mind the match.
Eventually, after 63 minutes and 31 seconds, Bingham fired in the pink to nudge 16-15 ahead, two frames from the title.
Bingham’s newest fan, former tennis star Martina Navratilova, wrote on Twitter: “This frame was the equivalent of a 18:16 set or something like that...wow”
And it was just one frame required when he made 55 in taking the next, with Murphy then handing Bingham a golden chance to complete his triumph.
Going for broke by taking on a long red, Murphy missed it by a large margin and Bingham completed his greatest win.
Murphy said: “He played like a winner all the way through the match.
“Sometimes in sport people are meant to win things. He loves snooker more than life itself.
“He fully deserved to win this tournament and although I’m disappointed to lose I’m happy for him and his family.
“I can have no regrets. I think I played some really great stuff during this championship. There can only be one winner and it wasn’t me.”