Hossein Vafaei enjoyed a Masters debut to remember after downing three-time champion Mark Selby 6-2 at the Alexandra Palace.
The Iranian was a late call-up for this year’s edition of snooker’s most prestigious invitational event following Zhao Xintong’s suspension as part of the ongoing match-fixing investigation.
Nevertheless, he fully capitalised on his unexpected opportunity to claim a third win over Selby in as many meetings, having also prevailed in the UK Championship last 32 in 2021 and 2022.
The only debutant in this year’s field – and the first Iranian to appear at the Masters – the Prince of Persia will play either John Higgins or Jack Lisowski in the quarter-finals.
A decade on from the most recent of his three Masters triumphs, Selby was beginning his latest quest to join Ronnie O’Sullivan (seven) and Stephen Hendry (six) as the only players to win the tournament on four or more occasions.
The Jester looked good to take the opening frame, building a 52-10 lead, but Vafaei produced a wonderful 52 clearance to snatch first blood on the black.
Though he lost two of the next three frames, the Iranian took control with breaks of 107 and 99 moving him 4-2 to the good.
Despite his hat-trick of successes, Selby boasts a generally modest Masters record of recent years, failing to advance beyond the quarter-finals since reaching his fifth showpiece in 2014.
And Vafaei ensured that streak would continue; clearing with 65 from 48-8 down in frame seven, before closing out victory with a wonderful run of 104.
— Live Snooker (@Livesnooker) January 8, 2023
Earlier in the day, reigning champion Neil Robertson was dethroned following a 6-4 defeat by Shaun Murphy.
The Australian, who later revealed a bout of flu hindered his preparations for the event, became the fourth defending champion in five years to fall at the first hurdle.
Robertson made an impressive start in what was a repeat of the 2012 and 2015 finals; drawing first blood with a neat 73 clearance from 39-0 down.
Murphy, who was beaten 10-6 in the 2012 showpiece before exacting his revenge with a commanding 10-2 triumph three years later, responded with runs of 98 and 53 to move 3-1 ahead at the interval.
Despite missing a straightforward green when in to clear, the Magician eventually moved 4-1 to the good after Robertson left the pink over the corner pocket, before a wonderful break of 100 put him on the brink of victory.
Aiming to become only the fifth player to successfully defend their Masters crown, Robertson rallied with breaks of 84 and 104 – the latter being a maximum attempt in which he missed an ambitious penultimate red – to reduce the deficit to 5-4.
The Thunder threatened to force a decider but failed to convert a brilliant opportunity, allowing a relieved Murphy to clear with 54 and scramble over the line.
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Masters Snooker 2023 Day One Results
Sunday January 8
Neil Robertson 4-6 Shaun Murphy
Mark Selby 2-6 Hossein Vafaei