When the draw for the Masters was made last month one first round match stood out above all the others,the clash between Neil Robertson & Mark Allen,but as we see so often in sport,those clashes that promise the most deliver the least.
These two of course met here last year at the quarter final stage in an epic clash that went all the way to a decider and given how both have played this season so far,a repeat of that looked likely coming in today,but after a promising start that saw Allen take the opening frame with a century the match quickly descended into a real slog with both players struggling to find any fluency.
Robertson took the second to level at 1-1 before Allen again edged ahead 2-1.He looked certain to make it 3-1 until leaving a final pink more awkward then it needed to be and Robertson took full advantage to level at 2-2 going to the interval.
Both were struggling to find any kind of form,but it was Allen who seemed to be playing slightly the better of the two as he edged ahead 3-2,his problem was though that he just couldn't nail home his advantage and as was becoming the pattern Roberson drew level at 3-3.This trend continued over the next four frames as Allen took the lead by the odd frame each time only for Robertson to level things up taking us to the inevitable decider.
They say all you want in a decider is a chance,but such was the way this game was going it seemed likely both would have numerous chances and so it proved. The pivotal moment came when Robertson left Allen touching ball on a red in the centre of the table and in trying to ensure he didn't leave a path through to a red over the corner pocket Allen failed to notice he was leaving one on beside the pink.Robertson came to the table knocked it in and duly cleared up to lead in the match for the first time when it mattered most,at the end,sealing the win 6-5
The Aussie will be delighted to be still in the tournament the way he played but he will also know he will have to be much better against Maguire in the quarter final.As for Allen he will no doubt have a couple of sleepless nights ahead as he wonders just how he managed to lose that one.
One place in the quarter final draw remained to be filled then as Barry Hawkins & Ricky Walden came out to do battle in a repeat of their Crucible semi final clash from last year.
Hawkins was the winner on that occasion and he was quickly out of the traps here,taking the opening three frames with some of his very best snooker,the highlight of which was a 132. Walden hadn't done much wrong and would have been relieved to get off the mark to trail 3-1 at the interval.
Once play resumed it was a case of picking up where he left off for Hawkins as another century moved him in to a 4-1 lead.Walden pulled one back to make it 4-2,but Hawkins again asserted in the next to move to within one of victory at 5-2.
Walden to his credit took the next to narrow the gap once more to 5-3 and then after a tense ninth frame he potted a respotted black to make it 5-4.
Up to now this match had progressed at a fairly brisk pace,but as so often happens as the tension ramps up,the misses then creep in and the balls end up in the most awkward positions.That was certainly the case in a long tenth frame where both players struggled,but it was Walden who clinched it to force the second deciding frame of the day.
The momentum was now very much with the man from Chester and although it wasn't a clean kill in the decider it was Walden who remained the stronger to clinch a 6-5 victory that looked most unlikely when he trailed 5-2.
The quarter final action gets under way tomorrow afternoon with Shaun Murphy facing Marco Fu before defending champion Mark Selby takes on John Higgins in the evening session.