The second session of play at The Masters sees a former champion meeting a debutant inside Alexandra Palace in London as Shaun Murphy looks to start 2024 off on the right footing when he meets Zhang Anda.
Murphy is a seasoned campaigner in this competition and will know exactly what he is getting himself into. Zhang will be sampling the special Ally Pally environment and atmosphere for the first time in this match.
Given the way he finished last season, when Shaun Murphy won the Championship League to open up this term there was a feeling that he was set up if not to dominate the snooker scene, to certainly deliver better than he has done since then. In truth, he hasn’t really delivered anything of note since then and will be looking for a big week here to set himself up for the big ranking tournaments which are on the horizon.
Murphy won this title in 2015 but he has only been past the quarter final once since then and when you consider in many of those years he will have been seeded in the top eight that represents a poor return. One thing we do know about Murphy though is that he is a showman who likes to entertain a crowd and he’ll have a sold out arena to try and show his best stuff in front of. He is also unlikely to have done any BBC punditry work ahead of the match too which is no bad thing.
Zhang Anda is the only debutant in the field this year but he isn’t any player making his debut. He has already won one of the titles on the circuit and could easily have had a second trophy on his cabinet. He won the International Championship in fine style beating Mark Williams, Ding Junhui and Ronnie O’Sullivan along the way and since then he has wins over Luca Brecel at the UK Championship and Judd Trump at the Scottish Open.
The one question mark over the possible temperament of the Chinese players here will be his demise in the English Open final when he led Trump 7-3 before fading and going down to lose 9-7 but that was his first final and often you need to experience them before feeling comfortable in them. This will be the biggest crowd that Zhang will have played in front of but if he can settle into his work early, he is certainly playing well enough to get the job done here.
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These two men have only met on three previous occasions with Zhang Anda relatively fresh to the top class scene. Shaun Murphy has won two of the three matches and he has a 13-9 advantage in those games so he has enough of an edge in his wins. They haven’t met since the second round of the European Masters in 2022 when Murphy won 5-3. This is the first time they have met in any tournament beyond the last 64 and it will also be their first match over the best of 11 frames. With it being Zhang’s debut this is obviously their first meeting at The Masters. How much we can take from their history remains to be seen.
Even though he won three titles in 2023, Shaun Murphy still flatters to deceive in the big events for me. Despite winning those titles, he only won one match in the three Triple Crown tournaments and that was here last year when he beat Neil Robertson, who didn’t exactly light it up in that calendar year, before losing 6-0 to Stuart Bingham in the quarter final. That immediately makes me swerve ‘The Magician’ at odds on but this is a debut for Zhang so I’m not rushing to back him either.
I do think that this is a part of the draw where both these men will recognise there is a chance of a big run and I think that will ensure we see a competitive match, even if Zhang does take a frame or two to settle on his debut. That makes me think that the better bet in this match could well be for over 9.5 frames. All three matches that Zhang played at the UK Championship would have covered this line while three of the four best of 11s that Murphy has played this season has gone over too. I think this can add to those trends.
Back Over 9.5 frames for a 3/10 stake at 2.10 with Betfair