Stevens claims advantage

Favourite Matthew Stevens gained the early advantage over qualifier Shaun Murphy in a tense and scrappy opening session of their Embassy World Championship final in Sheffield.

Favourite Matthew Stevens gained the early advantage over qualifier Shaun Murphy in a tense and scrappy opening session of their Embassy World Championship final in Sheffield.

Stevens opened up a 5-3 lead in the best of 35 contest but only after potting a superb final black down the rail in the final frame of the session – a rare moment of quality.

The Welshman just about deserved to edge ahead after cueing so well in the early stages of the match, although his game dipped after the interval.

But Murphy struggled throughout to produce the form which had seen him become the first qualifier to reach the final for 26 years.

Both players are known for their fluent play and break-building but four of the frames spanned more than half an hour.

For the first time Murphy looked as if he was affected by nerves after his fearless approach and awesome potting throughout the tournament.

Twenty two-year-old Murphy was striving to become the second youngest world champion after Stephen Hendry who won the first of his seven world titles at the age of 21.

The Rotherham-based player is also the lowest ranked player, at number 48, in the sport’s history to reach the final and began the tournament at odds of 150-1.

Murphy, whose father Tony is a World Snooker board member, was already assured of more than eight times his previous biggest pay day – £15,000 for reaching the first round in 2003.

He began confidently enough and runs of 39 and 24 left Stevens needing two snookers and, although he obtained both of them, Murphy was able to clinch a 32 minute opening frame.

Both players agreed to change the cue ball because of it appearing not to be pure white in colour before the second frame.

Stevens quickly got back on level terms with a break of 68 which left Murphy requiring snookers and an immature shot proved costly in the next.

Murphy tried to swerve around the black in an effort to pot a red when already 23 points in arrears and only succeeded in leaving it over the pocket.

In stepped Stevens, who at that stage looked to be cueing as smooth as silk, for a 60 clearance to the black to edge in front.

The Welshman, who began the match as favourite at 4-7 on with the bookmakers, was looking to finally triumph on snooker’s biggest stage after previously losing the 2000 final and three semi-finals.

Murphy was missing the long pots he had swallowed up throughout the tournament although both players missed chances in the final frame before the interval.

But a stroke of good fortune for Murphy, fluking the final pink after attempting a double into the middle pocket, brought him level.

The final had still not moved into top gear although Stevens’ break of 41 put him 3-2 ahead and then the third half hour-plus frame of the match saw him double his advantage.

Murphy at last converted one of his trademark long pots to launch him on the way to his first half-century of the match in the penultimate frame.

He broke down on 56 and the remaining six reds and colours looked at the mercy of Stevens but he kept running out of position, missed a final long red and allowed a grateful Murphy a reprieve.

Then came that fine black in the last frame from Stevens to earn him a two-frame advantage from a session lasting well over three hours.

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