Neil Robertson’s Masters title defence ended early by Shaun Murphy

Shaun Murphy held off a spirited fightback from Neil Robertson to dump the defending champion out of the Cazoo Masters in the first round.

Robertson won the opening frame with a break of 73 but Murphy reeled off the next five in succession thanks to contributions of 98, 53, 61 and 100, the century coming after Robertson had miscued horribly on the black.

Murphy had the chance to wrap up victory in a 48-minute seventh frame only to miss the green after a superb pot on the yellow with the rest and that looked set to be a turning point.

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Robertson made a break of 84 to reduce his deficit and was then on course for a maximum break of 147 in the ninth frame before missing a difficult 14th red into the yellow pocket.

The left-hander had the chance to force a decider when Murphy broke down on 54 in frame 10, but missed the blue into the middle trying to force position on the final red and a relieved Murphy sealed a 6-4 win.

“I was as surprised as anyone to find myself 5-1 ahead,” Murphy told the BBC. “I played well but of course against Neil you don’t expect to be in that position.

“The seventh frame, that won’t be on the highlights, we both had chances, and from then on I’ve just sat in the chair for 45 minutes whilst he played snooker from the gods.

Shaun Murphy
Shaun Murphy during his 6-4 win over Neil Robertson during day one of the Cazoo Masters at Alexandra Palace, London (John Walton/PA)

“I was pushed along by this great crowd here this afternoon. As a snooker player if you can’t get up for it here, in front of what is one of our best audiences we play in front of all year, where can you do it?

“It’s great to be back, I didn’t enjoy the last half an hour I’ve got to say but in general it’s been a good season, my game’s been trending in the right direction.”

Murphy will play either Kyren Wilson or Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals.

Robertson revealed he had been suffering from a “horrendous bout of flu” in the build-up to the match.

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“I’ve just been in bed really for a week and a half and Mille (his wife) has done amazingly well, because she’s had it as well, to look after the kids to allow me to get as much rest as possible,” he told Eurosport.

“I’ve been going to the club and doing about 45 minutes’ (practice), about the most I can do… on a lot of painkillers and was really struggling out there physically.

“I have to thank the crowd, they kind of gave me something, especially in the 147 attempt. I just wanted to somehow make a maximum and then be happy even with losing.”

Three-time winner Mark Selby also suffered an early exit as he lost 6-2 to Iranian debutant Hossein Vafaei.

Mark Selby
Mark Selby lost 6-2 to debutant Hossein Vafaei on day one of the Cazoo Masters at Alexandra Palace (John Walton/PA)

Vafaei, who took Zhao Xintong’s place in the draw after the Chinese star became one of 10 players suspended from the tour amid an investigation into match-fixing, made two centuries and further breaks of 99, 52 and 65 to beat Selby for the third time in succession.

In contrast, Selby’s highest break of the evening was just 49 as he suffered a third first-round loss at the Masters in the last four years.

“I can’t believe it,” Vafaei told Eurosport. “Am I asleep or awake? Honestly I can’t believe it.

“He’s such a tough opponent, he never gives up. He’s such a legend and it’s such a pleasure to share the table with him.

“I’m so proud of myself to beat him again. He’s one of the greatest ambassadors we have so I’m so happy to do the hat-trick against him.”