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Robertson Makes Strong Start In Belfast

Neil Robertson secured an important 4-1 victory over Jamie Jones on day one of the Dafabet Northern Ireland Open, as he steps up his bid to secure a place at the Masters in January.

The Thunder from Down Under is currently 17th in the race to the Alexandra Palace and needs strong showings here at the Belfast Waterfront and at next week’s UK Championship, which is the cut-off point for qualification and the last opportunity to clinch one of the 16 spots.

The Australian faced stern opposition against former World Championship quarter-finalist Jones, though he does hold an impressive record against the Welshman, having won all six of their meetings prior to today.

Robertson added to that record this afternoon, firing in breaks of 56, 52 and 83 on his way to a comfortable victory.

Robertson, who has been ever-present at the Masters for the past 11 years, said: “It is all in my hands to try and push on and catch the guys in front of me. I would always rather be chasing the pack rather than looking over my shoulder. So players like Ryan Day and Liang Wenbo are the ones closest in front of me. It is up to us. Those who perform the best will get there.”

Home favourite Mark Allen came through an edgy battle with world number 107 Sanderson Lam to book his spot in the last 64 with a 4-2 victory.

Allen came into this week in good form, having recently appeared in his seventh ranking final at the International Championship in Daqing, where he lost out 10-7 to Mark Selby. However, he struggled to produce his best snooker this evening in a fragmented clash with no breaks over 50.

The world number seven carries the hopes of home crowd this week and admitted feeling the weight of expectation. However, he hopes that he can now build some momentum going into his last 64 clash with Tian Pengfei.

“In the build up I felt a lot more pressure than last year, but today I didn’t feel that bad. I just didn’t play that great, which can happen in the first round of a tournament,” said the Pistol. “The pressure out there in the arena was actually nowhere near as bad as last year in the end, hopefully it gets a little bit easier as the tournament goes on, I’m looking forward to Wednesday now.”

Despite the win for Allen there was disappointment for the home crowd as Joe Swail surrendered a 3-1 lead over Lyu Haotian to lose out 4-3. Declan Brennan lost out 4-2 to Billy Joe Castle and Jordan Brown was whitewashed 4-0 by Mei Xiwen.

Shaun Murphy succumbed to a surprise 4-1 exit against China’s world number 97 Chen Zifan.

The Magician came into the event with high hopes following victory at the recent Champion of Champions, which was sealed with a 10-8 win over Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final. However, for the second consecutive year he has suffered a quick-fire defeat in Belfast.

Last season Murphy scored just eight points in a 4-0 whitewash against Luca Brecel. Today followed a similar pattern as Chen fired in breaks of 95 and 92 on his way to the win.

Craigie was wearing glasses for the first time in a competitive match.

Sam Craigie produced a sublime display to defeat world number 14 Kyren Wilson 4-1.

The match got off to an incredible start with three consecutive centuries. Craigie took the opener with a break of 106, before Wilson restored parity thanks to a run of 105. Former World under 21 champion Craigie then burst to the line with contributions of 110, 88 and 81.

Jimmy White ended a run of eight consecutive first round defeats with a 4-3 win over Dominic Dale, while Iran’s Hossein Vafaei got the better of German Masters champion Anthony Hamilton with a 4-2 win.

Defending champion Mark King got his campaign going with a 4-1 win over Australia’s former world billiards finalist Matthew Bolton.

For full results click here.

Pictures by Dominic Mallon and Jason Conlon