Snooker: Murphy's five in a row overwhelms Ebdon

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The Independent Online

Shaun Murphy became the first qualifier to reach the final of the Embassy World Championship since Terry Griffiths won the title at his first attempt 26 years ago by progressing from his overnight 12-12 to sweep past Peter Ebdon, the 2002 champion, 17-12.

Shaun Murphy became the first qualifier to reach the final of the Embassy World Championship since Terry Griffiths won the title at his first attempt 26 years ago by progressing from his overnight 12-12 to sweep past Peter Ebdon, the 2002 champion, 17-12.

If the 22-year-old Murphy lifts the trophy tomorrow evening he would become the second-youngest champion, after Stephen Hendry, who won the first of his seven titles at the age of 21. Standing in his way is Matthew Stevens, who beat another qualifier, Ian McCulloch 17-14.

One touted scenario was that Ebdon's experience and renowned mental intensity would prevail over Murphy, but his cue arm appeared unusually tight as he aggregated only 26 points in the five frames which proved necessary. From a fluked red, Murphy made 62 to go in front, 47 to clinch the next frame, and flew past the post with frame winners of 72, 123 and 60.

"At 12-12 I felt very confident but I didn't get many chances," said Ebdon. "It was awesome stuff. His shot selection was brave, but when you cue as well as he does why not go for your shots?"

Murphy admitted that he was not as cool as he looked: "I couldn't eat any breakfast, I couldn't get anything down for lunch, but once my hand hit the cloth I was all right."

Murphy, already assured of £125,000 with a shot at doubling it, wants to indulge his long-held ambition to own a Mercedes, and also help defray the expense of his honeymoon. He plans to get married in July to the fiancée he met through a church website chatroom. Their social life revolves around the New Life Christian Centre in Rotherham, and it may be that Murphy's religious convictions give him a peace of mind helpful to snooker. "Whatever happens out there I'm in good hands," he said earlier in the championship. "Whatever happens is going to be in my best interests."

That he started this season 48th in the world rankings illustrates how difficult it is for even the most talented young player to come through qualifying competitions, but he yesterday displayed the eerie calm of a player claiming a long-awaited destiny.

Stevens will oppose Murphy thanks to his 17-14 defeat of McCulloch, the world No 17 from Preston, whose earlier victims included last year's runner-up Graeme Dott, 10-9 and Mark Williams, a double champion, 13-12.

McCulloch's hopes of reaching the final were high when he took the opening session 6-2, but it was 8-8 after the second and he had to win the last two frames before lunch yesterday to stand 12-12 going into the evening and the final session.

At 13-13, Stevens embarked on a 147 maximum attempt which would have given him half the £161,000 bonus provisionally in possession of Williams since the first round.

On 64 he sacrificed the certainty of clinching the frame by taking the cue ball in and out of baulk to remain on the black, but after 15 red-blacks and the yellow he under-hit his position for brown. He successfully cut the brown to a baulk pocket but, from distance, failed at the blue and his run ended on 129.

The "big frame" according to Stevens was the next, which ended in a black-ball finish with McCulloch not only failing from distance but going in-off to fall 15-13 behind. "Up to then the match was a toss of a coin," said Stevens.

With a break of 76, the world No 6 went three up with four to play and though McCulloch pulled one back with his run of 65 Stevens froze him out in the next to achieve some consolation for his late-stage disappointments here in the last five years.

Beaten 18-16 by Williams in the 2000 final after leading 13-7 and in subsequent semis by John Higgins, 17-15, Peter Ebdon, 17-16, and Dott 17-15, tomorrow night Stevens could become the fourth Welshman after Ray Reardon, Terry Griffiths and Williams to lift the trophy.

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