Shaun Murphy remained on target for his first ranking title in three years as he beat Pang Junxu 6-3 to reach the final of the BetVictor Welsh Open in Llandudno.
From 2-2, Murphy pulled away to win four of the last five frames of a tough battle, to set up a meeting with Robert Milkins on Sunday. First to nine frames will take the £80,000 top prize and the Ray Reardon Trophy, while Milkins has the extra challenge of trying to win the BetVictor Series bonus.
Victory would give Murphy his first silverware since the 2020 Welsh Open and earn him a tenth career ranking title, which would bring him level with Jimmy White and make him the 11th player in snooker history to get into double figures.
The 40-year-old Englishman has gone through tough spells in recent years, with dips in form and challenges away from snooker, but has enjoyed a resurgence this season, partly as a result of weight loss following gastric sleeve surgery last summer. Runs to the quarter-finals of the UK Championship and the semis of the World Grand Prix have seen him build momentum, and the purity of Murphy’s ball-striking was obvious when he made back to back breaks of 145 and 147 earlier this week.
He is through to his 23rd ranking final and first since the 2021 World Championship when he was beaten by Mark Selby.
China’s Pang, playing in his first ranking semi-final, got the better of the opening frame and had a chance to go 2-0 ahead but missed a tough pot to a centre pocket on the final black, handing Murphy the chance to slot in an excellent pot to a baulk corner for 1-1. Frame three also came down to the colours and a cracking long green from Murphy set him up to go ahead. He might have added the fourth but missed a tough final blue to a baulk pocket and Pang punished him for 2-2.
After the interval, Murphy regained the lead, then compiled a run of 58 in frame six as he went 4-2 ahead, before Pang halved the gap with a break of 62. In frame eight, Murphy led 44-24 when he converted a superb long red, initiating a run of 29 for 5-3. And the Magician finished the match in the ninth with a run of 83.
“It wasn’t a great performance, neither of us played well,” admitted world number 11 Murphy. “The importance of the occasion got to us. I let him dictate the style of play and if it hadn’t been for the words of my assistant Robert Murphy during the interval, I wouldn’t have won that game.
“I have been on a bleak run in the last couple of seasons so I am over the moon to be back in another final. We spend a lot of time away from our kids and families but we never give up and I have been working very hard on my game. This has been coming all season, I have been playing well. In the club I have been grafting, working on my weaknesses and watching my matches back to see where things have gone wrong. I feel I may have turned a corner.”
On the onefourseven podcast, Murphy pledged earlier in the season that if he got to a ranking final he would moonwalk to the table, and he intends to honour that promise. He added: “I am a man of my word and I will be trying to moonwalk to my chair tomorrow.”