Snooker - Robertson edges Ding in Masters thriller

Neil Robertson avoided becoming the latest defending champion to tumble out of the Masters in the first round a year after winning the invitational event as he claimed the final three frames to complete a rousing 6-5 win over Ding Junhui at London's Alexandra Palace.

2010 winner Mark Selby lost 6-4 to Mark King in the last 16 two years ago while Ding himself was emptied out 6-4 by Ronnie O'Sullivan in his first match as the Chinese player failed to defend the tournament he won in 2011.

Former world champion Robertson looked to be heading the same way, but the Australian somehow rallied to see off Ding before a capacity crowd of 1300 that witnessed three centuries from an engrossing affair.

Ding always carried an assured air about his play as two centuries helped him recover from trailing 2-0 and 3-2 but Robertson produced an immaculate run of 90 in the deciding frame to retain his hopes of becoming only the fourth man to win the event in successive years.

It prompted a cry of "You beauty" by Robertson. You couldn't blame him.

“I’ve been a bit frustrated with how things have gone for me at the last few tournaments losing to Judd (Trump) at the International Championship and Mark (Selby) at the UK Championship," said Robertson. “I just felt things hadn’t gone my way in matches. At 5-3 when Ding didn’t land on the red he needed for the win, that was my one chance. It was a bit of luck going my way, and I certainly unleashed the fury at the end. “I think it is good. (Roger) Federer and (Novak) Djokovic show emotion when they win a big point in tennis, or Tiger Woods when he rolls in a putt to win a major. I think it is good for sport to show a lot of passion.” 

Robertson dominated the opening frame as Ding saw a white drop in a middle bag after the Melbourne man had missed an attempted plant on a red. Robertson returned to the table to produce 76 for a 1-0 lead.

The second frame was a closer encounter, but Robertson sneaked it by seeing a double on the penultimate red fall down a hole before clearing to the pink to move two frames to the good. He celebrated with some intensity by punching his fists in the air as if aware of the importance of winning such a close frame, but it seemed to be a strangely premature outburst of joy at such an early stage. 

Robertson left Ding in trouble in the third frame as he collected 15 points in fouls as his opponent three times failed to escape from a snooker. Ding finally hit the red at the fourth attempt, but Robertson failed to capitalise as he snookered himself on an easy red to a middle bag after potting the blue for a 22-0 lead. His failure to produce the required safety shot proved costly as Ding slotted a longish red before compiling 103 to close to 2-1 behind.

Ding would restore parity at 2-2 with a knock of 53 proving too much for Robertson's powers of recovery.

A safety error by Ding early in the fifth frame handed Robertson the chance to record a run of 46 before he returned to the table to add 24 for a 3-2 advantage.

With the tension mounting with every passing frame, Robertson somehow managed to pot a black hanging over a top pocket in trying to play safe off a red. Ding stepped in with an imperious run of 127 more than enough to see him level again at 3-3.

Both men had chances in a scrappy seventh frame, but Ding produced a brave pot on the penultimate red on his way to a closing 42 that saw him lead for the first time in the match.

Robertson was suddenly swimming against the tide as he saw a black creep out when it looked likelier to drop to a baulk pocket. Ding held himself together superbly well as a 54 knock carried him one frame from the last eight.

Robertson responded in a glorious fashion with a run of 100 enabling him to close to 5-4 behind.

Ding seemed likely to polish matters off when he made a run of 50 in the 11th frame only to run out of position in splitting the reds off the blue. Robertson steeled himself to clear to the pink with a 62 to force the deciding frame before an early safety error by Ding enabled Robertson to make a frame and match-winning run of 90.

“He was a bit unlucky in making 50 and running out of position," said Robertson. "If the white runs on another inch, it is all over. “They’re fixing the table now, but I’ve lost two frames because of the table with balls running away the pockets. Other than that, I thought it was a great match between two former champions." Robertson will face Mark Allen in the last eight.