Arriving at the famous Crucible for the 2016 World Snooker Championship, Shaun Murphy was labelled as one of the favourites to etch his name on the trophy once more - and rightly so. The Englishman has been in fine form this season, securing the World Grand Prix title last month, beating Stuart Bingham 10-9 in the final.
A dish best served cold
The 2005 world champion would face last year's Crucible quarter-finalist Anthony McGill in the first round draw, the Scotsman looking for revenge after eventually losing out to Murphy in 2015, as the latter went on to reach the final. A grudge match then, as these two talented players got underway on Saturday afternoon.
As expected, the standard was high from the start, as both players came out of the blocks fast. A break of 61 was enough to give Murphy the first frame, but McGill hit back immediately - and in style: a first century of the game (119) quickly levelled the scores. In response, Murphy hit back with a high quality 93 break of his own, before the Scotsman once more tied the game at 2-2 before the mid-session interval.
McGill, who seems to thrive on the pressure of the Crucible, took the lead for the first time in the match immediately after the interval, but breaks of 76, 109 and 55 from Murphy saw the first shift in momentum as he raced into a 5-3 lead. Not to be outdone in the final frame of the session, McGill instantly hit back with a break of 70 to win a vital frame and reduce the deficit at 4-5.
Foot on the gas
The game was perfectly poised as the players resumed on Sunday morning, not one person wanting to predict the outcome, but it was Murphy that came flying out of the traps in frame 10. A break of 105 gave him a 6-4 lead and the signs were ominous. How would McGill respond?
In emphatic fashion is the answer. Switching gears, McGill rattled off breaks of 64, 85 and 81 to reel off three frames and lead 7-6 at the mid-session interval. It was a gap that did nothing to diminish Scot's fine form, and a break of 50 in frame 14 was enough to suddenly move the youngster two frames away from the next round at 8-6.
However, Murphy wasn't done yet, hitting back in frame 15 with a fine break of 88, to move just one frame behind at 7-8. The next frame was a vital one, and it was McGill that stepped it up, producing a wonderful break of 117 to extend his lead to 9-7 - the 25-year-old on the cusp of causing the first major upset of the competition.
Drama at the Crucible
Once again, Murphy hit back in frame 17, holding his nerve to produce a break of 70 and move back within one frame at 8-9. Unlike Saturday night - where they witnssed Ali Carter's heroics - the Crucible fans would not be seeing a final-frame decider however, as McGill held his nerve to take the 18th frame with a wonderful break of 97 under pressure. The Scot moves into the next round with this terrific victory, where he will meet Marco Fu.
Already, after a day and a half of drama at the Crucible, we have lost three former world champions and both finalists from last year's contest - with more to come. "The Rocket" Ronnie O'Sullivan gets underway this afternoon against David Gilbert, as he starts his campaign for a sixth world title.