Shaun Murphy admitted there was a certain crushing inevitability that he would draw Chinese prospect Si Jiahui in the first round at the Crucible – after comments about the then amateur landed him in hot water 18 months ago at the UK Championship.
Murphy, who won his only world title 18 years ago in Sheffield, arrives for the tournament this year in perhaps the best form of anyone present having recently won both the Players and Tour Championship titles.
After some fallow periods in his career The Magician has rediscovered all the old panache, flair and swagger and then allied that to more rounded game making him able to better scrap it out when necessary.
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But when his name came out paired with the 20-year-old world No80 Si, there was a collective gasp with memories still fresh of their encounter at York’s Barbican Centre in 2021 – and more pertinently, the fallout from a losing interview given by Murphy, the winner of 11 ranking titles.
Murphy lost 6-5 to the teenager who has since joined the professional ranks last summer. But after losing a tense decider Murphy unloaded about the status of his opponent and whether it was right he was playing in one of the Triple Crown major events at all.
Murphy said that night: “I feel extremely hard done by that I have lost to someone who shouldn't even be in the building. I don't know why we as a sport allow amateurs to compete in professional tournaments. This is our livelihood. This is our living. We are self-employed individuals and not contracted sportsmen. We don't play for a team.
“The other 127 runners and riders in the tournament, it is their livelihood too. It is wrong, in my opinion, to walk into somebody who is not playing with the same pressures and concerns I am.
“He played like a man who does not have a care in the world, because he does not have a care in the world. It is not fair, it is not right. I am not picking on him as a young man, he deserved his victory. Amateurs should not be allowed in professional tournaments, the end.
"This is our livelihood. This is how I put food on the table. This is how I earn money. Since turning professional at 15, I have earned the right to call myself a professional snooker player. He hasn't done that. He shouldn't be on the table.”
Since then, of course, Si has very much earned the right to be both on the tour, and also in the Crucible building with his wins in the qualifiers.
The tirade triggered a huge response at the time, much of it negative towards Murphy with comparisons being made to the FA Cup in football, and the romance associated with amateurs taking on the professionals if there were spaces available.
Murphy, in attendance in the BBC Radio Five Live studio for the draw on Thursday morning, said: “It was always going to happen, getting drawn against Si Jiahui – and I hadn’t been here myself live to witness it in the studio, I would have questioned it.
“We played each other 18 months ago at the UK Championship – and there was no controversy whatsoever! I didn’t make any outlandish comments at all, and there will be no dramas around this one!
“But seriously, all the journalists will be loving it, I can already hear the keyboards being smashed to pieces. Listen, thank god it’s in a week’s time and I don’t play until Wednesday.
“You never quite know what you will get from a debutant and how they will react to the Crucible, but I have obviously played him before and know for sure he is a very good player. I need to use my experience.
“But I will be heading to Sheffield this afternoon where the practice facilities are open, and I also have some BBC commentating commitments.
“There are some ties in there though, fabulous matches. I also like Gary Wilson v Elliot Slessor, best mates and both from the North-East.”
World No1 and seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, going for a record eighth crown, will take on another Chinese debutant in Pang Junxu. And player of the season Mark Allen, who has won three titles this campaign, plays another debutant Fan Zhengyi.
Former champion Judd Trump against Anthony McGill looks like the tie of the round, with the Scot a former semi-finalist. And Mark Selby has been paired with Matt Selt.
John Higgins plays Leeds’ David Grace, Mark Williams will face Jimmy Robertson, and Neil Robertson takes on another first-timer in Wu Yize of China. Wales’ Jak Jones, also a debutant, will play Ali Carter.
World Snooker Championship 2023 Draw
Ronnie O’Sullivan (1) v Pang Junxu
Ding Junhui (16) v Hossein Vafaei
Luca Brecel (9) v Ricky Walden
Mark Williams (8) v Jimmy Robertson
Judd Trump (5) v Anthony McGill
Jack Lisowski (12) v Noppon Saengkham
Robert Milkins (13) v Joe Perry
Shaun Murphy (4) v Si Jiahui
Mark Allen (3) v Fan Zhengyi
Stuart Bingham (14) v Dave Gilbert
Ali Carter (11) v Jak Jones
Neil Robertson (6) v Wu Yize
Kyren Wilson (7) v Ryan Day
John Higgins (10) v David Grace
Gary Wilson (15) v Elliot Slessor
Mark Selby (2) v Matt Selt
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change