Masters 2021: Shaun Murphy says mental health effects will be seen 'for a long time'

By Shamoon HafezBBC Sport
The 2021 Betfred Masters
Venue: Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes Dates: 10-17 January
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Red Button, BBC Sport website and the BBC Sport app. Highlights on BBC Two and online.

The lasting damage of the coronavirus pandemic will be felt "for a long time to come", says former world champion Shaun Murphy.

All snooker events this season have been held behind closed doors in a strict, bio-secure environment at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

Murphy said he was "sat in a hotel room" as friends and family died.

"When you spend lots of time on your own you can disappear down a wormhole. It is not something I enjoy," he said.

The Masters, which starts on Sunday, will also take place in Buckinghamshire having been moved from London's Alexandra Palace.

Last July, Murphy suffered personal tragedy with the loss of his best friend and former manager Brandon Parker,external-link who died after a long battle against illness.

"I am very lucky that I have some very good people around me including my wife, my coach and some friends in very challenging times," said Murphy, who also paid tribute to the World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) for the work it does in supporting players.

"I have lost some very dear friends and family this year while being in Milton Keynes.

"In normal times you would have been at a funeral with loved ones or visiting somebody in hospital as they spent their last days in their bed, but instead you are sat in a hotel room.

"You can't see these people even if you wanted to and then you have to go out and play a snooker match.

"The lasting damage to players' and everyone's mental health during this pandemic over the last year, we will see the results of it for a long time to come."

'Soul destroying walking out to an empty arena'

Englishman Murphy faces Wales' Mark Williams on Monday (19:00 GMT).

All players will be tested for Covid-19 the day before their first match, and will remain within the bubble as long as they are participating in the tournament.

Murphy told BBC Sport: "We are all fairly social animals, we need that interaction with other people and to have that taken away is quite difficult.

"I have enjoyed every minute of being with my wife and children over the festive period. I have enjoyed the early mornings because when you are back in Milton Keynes you are desperate for a kiss and cuddle from the kids.

"Remembering those moments is what gets you through the low periods sat in your hotel room."

Organisers had hoped to welcome back about 1,000 fans for each session but changes in government restrictions mean the invitational event will now go ahead without spectators.

Murphy, the 2015 Masters champion, said: "I was speaking to some other players about how strange it will be walking out to a live audience again - we cannot wait for it to happen.

"When that normality does return with live crowds able to attend, it could be an emotional release because people have been struggling and you might see an outpouring of emotion from everyone.

"It is soul destroying walking into an empty arena playing in front of nobody."

The biggest loser wins

Having watched everything there is to on Netflix, Murphy says he also "completed Deliveroo" while staying in Milton Keynes and was "eating terribly and putting weight on".

He and snooker MC Phil Seymour have taken on a charity challenge to see who can lose the most weight from 1 January to the eve of the World Championship on 16 April.

"I felt I had to do something about it," said Murphy. "I had put weight back on having lost a considerable amount a few years ago.

"At that time I was feeling much better, was performing better and it crept back on. It is starting to affect my game now in terms of fatigue and concentration in the arena.

"Having that competitive edge with someone else will spur me on."

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