Benson and Hedges Masters

Matthew Stevens, attempting to become the first player for eight years to successfully defend the Benson and Hedges Masters title, fell at the opening hurdle yesterday at Wembley Conference Centre.

It was the Welshman's last-frame jinx that returned to haunt the fallen champion.

Stevens led his Wheels in Motion stable-mate and good friend Paul Hunter 2-0 and 5-4 - but lost 6-5 after a memorable contest lasting nearly three hours.

Hunter, runner-up to Ken Doherty in the Welsh Open exactly a week ago, secured an error-strewn 42-minute deciding frame.

However, the tension was understandable with such high stakes. Hunter's first Wembley victory at the third attempt guarantees him a quarter-final against Peter Ebdon or Alan McManus and #30,000.

For Stevens, it was his sixth defeat this season by a deciding frame, and in most of those matches he has been a front-runner.

Breaks of 85 and 75 gave the Carmarthen player a perfect start, and he also secured frame No.4 to lead 3-1 at the interval.

However, Leeds-based Hunter showed there was not much wrong with his game by opening his account with a run of 86.

He went on to add breaks of 88, 82, and 66 to hit the front at 4-3.

Stevens came back with 60 and 86 to lead 5-4, but still he could not end his hoodoo.

Hunter's 74 sent the contest to the wire, and it was the Yorkshireman who stayed the most calm to reach the last eight.

''I knew Matthew had lost a lot of last frames because I've watched him quite a lot this season,'' said Hunter. ''However, he shouldn't be too disappointed because players are playing well against him.

''The way he started I thought he was going to carry it on through the match.

''However, I managed to get a good break in the third frame and that settled me down.

''I'm just pleased to have won. It's my first victory here and I know if I play well I can win any tournament. The main thing is I'm enjoying my snooker again.''

Stevens put a brave face on his latest setback. The world No.6 said: ''I'm beginning to think 'what have I got to do to win.'

''I did have a couple of chances in the last frame but Paul perhaps held himself that bit better.

''It's disappointing to lose again but I'll just go back to the practice table and, hopefully, things will start to turn around.''

Earlier in the day, Shaun Murphy made a stunning debut in the tournament when he defeated Marco Fu, the world No.15, 6-1.

The 18-year-old Masters newcomer said: ''I've been working towards this day for 10 years, since I told my dad I wanted to be the best snooker player in the world.''

Fu, who drove down from Hull on Saturday night after having played in the Matchroom League, had no complaints at being swept aside.

''Tiredness may have played a part in my defeat,'' he said, ''but Shaun really played ever so well here and would probably have won the match any- way.''