Mark Selby withstood a spirited comeback from Stephen Lee to eventually prevail 6-4 in the first round of The Masters at Alexandra Palace.
The ‘Jester from Leicester’ was all smiles when he led 4-0 at the mid-session interval but would have struggled to find the funny side when his opponent launched a strong fightback late in the encounter.
Selby, a two-time champion of the prestigious event, looked to be in complete control after taking the opening four frames of the match.
It wasn’t so much that the Englishman played well, more that his countryman was playing woefully in the early exchanges.
Lee was contesting his first match in the invitational tournament since his defeat in the final to Selby in 2008 and appeared to struggle with his nerves from the outset.
At a pot success rate of less than 70% for Lee, Selby poached on all of his opponent’s mistakes to seemingly open up an insurmountable lead – aided with a high break of 110.
However, four-time ranking event winner Lee avoided the whitewash with a century of his own in the fifth and, despite gifting the next frame to Selby following an inexplicable missed red, he found his fluent cue action to knock in breaks of 73 and 94 and reduce the deficit to 5-3.
In a close tenth frame, it looked like Selby was finally going to scramble over the winning line only to go in-off with the cue ball when potting what was effectively a match winning brown and Lee cleared to get to within one.
After trading early chances, Selby continued to look edgy in the subsequent frame but steeled himself to compile 71 break – enough to get over the winning line in a thoroughly entertaining clash.
The 28 year-old has made a habit of emerging victorious in this event in the past but he will have to be more composed in his quarter-final tie against Shaun Murphy on Friday.
In the evening session, Graeme Dott heaped more misery on Ali Carter’s 2011/12 campaign by winning the last four frames for a 6-3 triumph.
Neither player were anywhere near their best but Dott always seemed to be the man more likely to reach the winning line first.
In a scrappy affair, the opening four frames were shared which was a fair reflection given the fact that the pair of them missed a succession of relatively routine pots – Carter in particular with a trio of blacks of the spot.
The Englishman won a protracted fifth on the black to regain the lead but Dott took control of proceedings thereafter and sealed the win in the ninth for a flattering scoreline.
So that completes the first round in London with six out of the eight seeded players advancing to the quarter-final stage – the only exceptions being Dott’s success tonight and Ronnie O’Sullivan’s victory over defending champion Ding Junhui.
The four-time champion is in action again tomorrow afternoon in the tie of the round against UK winner Judd Trump while Dott returns to face countryman and world champion John Higgins in the later game.