Stephen Maguire’s Crucible career is littered with 10 first-round exits – so there was a sense of huge relief from the Scot after coming through an epic battle against grudge rival Shaun Murphy at the Betfred World Championship.
The pair’s relationship has been strained ever since a much-publicised incident fully 18 years ago, when Maguire was docked a frame for being late after forgetting his chalk and then claimed it was Murphy that complained to the referee – something the Magician has since denied.
Whatever the truth of the incident it has entered into snooker folklore. Neither two-time semi-finalist Maguire or former winner Murphy were anywhere bear their best in this marathon that featured one frame of an hour and 11 minutes.
But after seeing a 6-2 lead disappear to trail 8-7, six-time ranking event winner Maguire found his best stuff when it mattered most to stagger over the line 10-8 shortly before midnight on Sunday.
Maguire, who next faces reigning UK and German Masters champion Zhao Xintong, said: “I was ten times more shattered than anyone watching by the end. It was a long match, and a long two days. It wasn’t the best stuff from either of us.
“I think we dragged each other down and that’s why we were sitting talking about afterwards it at midnight.
“The frame 14 that took 71 minutes…we’re getting old, aren’t we, so maybe that’s why! Halfway through it the things that were going wrong, there were crazy things happening.
“I was trying not to laugh when Shaun hit the pink with his hand. But so many stupid things were going on and you were drained, plus it becomes one that you really want to win.
“In fact I lost it and at 7-7 and then 8-7 down I thought I had lost the match, but in fact I loosened up, I let the cue go and thought if you go down, go down swinging.
“When Shaun missed a red with a chance to go 9-7 that was massive, I knew if I didn’t make a break there with the reds like they were I was out – I managed to do something.
“I don’t know what I am going to do about my cue for the next match. The one I was using against Shaun was a maple. I was struggling to see a little bit.
“I have one that is ash with the same specification, I’ll practice back up in Glasgow and see what I do. I have won two qualifiers and now this with the maple one, so I might stick with it.
“There was one point where I dropped my cue on the floor in frustration but I was joking – and the match was played in a good spirit.
“I thought I was coming in here with some momentum after a great result and win in the final qualifier against Zhou Yuelong, because that was a really tough match.
“I didn’t really want to play on the first day on Saturday and wanted a couple of days off, but I got Saturday. And as soon as I got out there against Shaun it was rubbish.
“Zhao is the man at the moment. I have played the game long enough to know that I just have to play my game, but he is the real deal – no question.
“Everyone has been waiting for him to break through for a couple of years, he is a replica of Jimmy White really. His long game is one the best I have seen, and now he is scoring and competing.
“His safety and matchplay has improved and I enjoy watching him, and think he’s great.
“I have not got the best record here so for me it is always about trying to get through the first round, which I have done, and then you’re into a best-of-25 which is a proper match.
“In the past I have just come up against really good players, boys on form, and lost a few deciders.”
Opponent Murphy, 39, has been suffering with back and neck problems this season, while those continue to hinder his efforts the Magician was pleased to make Maguire sweat.
And the No10 seed also shrugged off those on social media questioning the wisdom of commentating for the BBC on the mornings of both sessions of the match.
The 2005 champion said: “It was always going to be a battle. Our games are very similar and we have been playing each other since we were boys.
“Neither player was ever going to run away with it, and I was pleased to make a game of it from 6-2 down. If I had played on Saturday like I played on Sunday, the story might have been different.
“As for commentating the same day as my sessions, I didn’t even give it a second thought – it must be a slow news day if people were discussing that!
“I am part of the team with the BBC and also a player, and hopefully that brings something fresh to the commentary team. If I hadn’t been commentating on Sunday morning, I would just have been watching it in my hotel room.”
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