The Masters began with a bang on Sunday with the shock exits for defending champion Neil Robertson and world number two Mark Selby at Alexandra Palace.
The illustrious tournament looks set to be an intriguing affair among the game’s top players and wins for Shaun Murphy and Hossein Vafaei mean it looks like we could be in for a week full of drama before the champion is crowned on Sunday.
|What||The Masters 2023|
|Where||Alexandra Palace, London|
|When||Sunday 8th January - Sunday 15th January|
|How to watch||BBC or Eurosport|
|Odds||Ronnie O’Sullivan 13/5, Judd Trump 7/2, Mark Allen 9/1, Shaun Murphy 10/1, Kyren Wilson 11/1|
Vafaei, the first Iranian to play in the tournament, was handed an unexpected opportunity as Zhao Xintong’s replacement and he needed no second invitation to make his mark on the north London stage.
He posted two century breaks in a 6-2 win over Selby and it was the third consecutive occasion he has beaten the Jester from Leicester after successes at the UK Championship in both 2021 and 2022.
The best-of-11 first-round match was tied after four frames, but Vafaei showed his class with a fine 99 clearance that tipped the match in his favour.
There was no looking back as he edged the sixth frame and was then able to tidy up when Selby ran out of position in the next. Vafaei sealed his place in the quarter-finals with a break of 104.
He will face either Jack Lisowski or John Higgins in the last eight.
Murphy has not reached a final since the 2021 World Championship, but his confidence received a huge boost as he knocked out Robertson out in the first round.
The Aussie had been suffering from flu over Christmas, but the 2005 world champion showed Robertson no mercy to continue some decent recent form.
There was no sign of what was to come as Robertson took the first frame, but Murphy took the next two with breaks of 98 and 53 before taking advantage of some slips from his opponent to establish a 5-1 lead.
Robertson fought back to 5-4 when he potted 13 reds and blacks on his way to a break of 104, but Murphy got over the line and will now face either Kyren Wilson or Stuart Bingham.
Vafaei did not made his debut at the World Championship until last year and has risen to 19th in the world rankings and Selby is a big scalp that will give the Iranian confidence that he belongs in this sort of company.
The fact it is only a few weeks since Selby won the English Open means that Vafaei’s spirits are going to be sky-high although, as a last-minute entrant into the event, there will be no opportunity for him to rest easy whether he plays either four-time world champion Higgins or Lisowski.
Murphy is at the other end of the experience scale and is fighting his way back after a neck injury curtailed his progress in the last couple of years.
There have been signs of promise recently though, so a renaissance cannot have come as a total surprise.
He reached the quarter-finals of the UK Championship, which was a big leap forward, and he pushed Selby all the way in the last-16 of the English Open and could have seen off the man who went on to lift the trophy had a few balls fallen his way.
Wilson or Bingham stand in his way, but the 2015 Masters champion is on the upgrade and, as he proved against Robertson, he can be a threat to anyone in this prestigious tournament.