Anthony McGill, last year’s surprise package at the Betfred World Championship, pulled off another giant-killing act with a 10-8 victory over Shaun Murphy.
It was a tremendous performance from Scotland’s 25-year-old McGill as, from 6-4 down, he won six of the last eight frames, making a century and five more breaks over 50. The player nicknamed the Smiling Assassin captured the imagination with a run to the quarter-finals last year on his Crucible debut, knocking out Stephen Maguire and Mark Selby before losing to Murphy.
In fact he had struggled to live up to his promise this season, failing to go beyond the last 32 of a ranking event until now. But the young Glaswegian, ranked 30th in the world, clearly enjoys the longer matches and has a handy knack of producing his best on the biggest stage.
With Murphy following Stuart Bingham on the road out of Sheffield, today’s result means that both of last year’s finalists have fallen at the first hurdle. World number three Murphy will be disappointed to have seen his bid for a second Crucible crown end so early, especially having looked at the top of his game when he won the recent World Grand Prix.
Nottingham-based Murphy, the 2005 champion, led 5-4 overnight and started strongly today with a break of 105 to double his lead. But he scored just two points in the next three frames as McGill fired in runs of 64, 85 and 81 to go 7-6 ahead at the interval.
Murphy led 43-24 in the next when he missed a red to a centre pocket and his opponent capitalised with a run of 50 to extend his advantage. Murphy hit back with a run of 88 to close to 8-7, only for McGill to make a brilliant 117 to go two up with three to play. A run of 70 from Murphy kept his hopes alive, but McGill needed only one chance in frame 18 to close out the match as his break of 97 set up a last 16 clash with Marco Fu.
“Overall, the qualifiers, people like me, are more capable now, the difference between the top players and the qualifiers is very marginal these days, and that’s showed already,” said McGill.
“I suppose I could win it. I’ve got a cue in my hand and I’m still in it. I didn’t come here to win, I’m here just to try my best and see where that gets me.
“I felt a bit lucky to be able to play at the Crucible last year, I was just happy and honoured to be here. It would be nice to better last year’s result, but anything more will be a bonus after that result.”
Murphy, whose fiancée Elaine is due to give birth to their first child in August, said: “Obviously I’m disappointed, but I think the fact that I have a baby on the way has changed how I look at things, it’s just a game of snooker.
“I felt my game coming here was in better shape than it was last year, but unfortunately I’ve come up against someone who is playing even better than me.
“If he can keep his composure and keep playing with enjoyment, he could take some stopping this week. The strength in depth of snooker is the best it’s ever been – 28 of the world’s top 32 are here, and none of these results are surprises.”
Meanwhile, another qualifier also made a promising start as Robbie Williams took a 5-4 lead over Ricky Walden in a Merseyside derby. Williams made a top break of 67 during a largely scrappy session, while Walden compiled runs of 63 and 52. They play to a finish tomorrow evening.