Mark Allen admits he is surprised he came out of the Christmas break so sharp after producing some mesmerising snooker to end reigning Masters champion Shaun Murphy's title defence at the first hurdle - in a match that will be remembered for a forfeited frame.
Murphy thrashed Australia's Neil Robertson 10-2 in last year's final to lift the Masters trophy for the first time but Allen made breaks of 50, 137, 91 and 104 en route to a 6-4 victory at London's Alexandra Palace to ensure the Englishman will not retain his crown.
A turning point came in frame six with the match finely poised at 3-2 to the Antrim potter when Murphy missed a red three times in a row while trying to play a thin safety which, by rule, meant he immediately conceded the frame.
And Allen, who now faces Joe Perry or Barry Hawkins in the quarter-finals of the £600,000 event on Thursday evening, acknowledges he was shocked that Murphy didn't opt for a safer shot on his third attempt to avoid an immediate forfeit.
"It's a very unusual situation for any top player to do that because I'm in the mode that if I miss it twice and get warned then I make sure I hit it on the third attempt," said Allen.
"Even if it leaves something on I'll do that because you never know, you're opponent could miss anything or get a kick.
"Shaun will be kicking himself but I'll take it because you don't get many easy frames on tour.
"Coming in here I wasn't expecting anything - I'm someone who needs to practise all the time but I had 10 days off over Christmas and enjoyed myself, to say the least.
"I came back on Monday to start practising and felt terrible. I had two days in a row where I literally didn't make a 30 break, that's how bad it was.
"So I'm very, very happy with the way I played - I scored heavily and took my chances well and I'm very happy to get over the line at the end.
"Shaun is the defending champion here, under a lot of pressure, and it was a big match for me playing him on the big stage," he added.
Allen has never reached the final of the Masters although he is a two-time semi-finalist, with the last of those appearances coming against Murphy 12 months ago.
In fact, the Ulsterman has never won any of snooker's triple crown events - the Masters, UK Championship and World Championship - but Murphy sees no reason why he couldn't break that duck at Alexandra Palace this week.
"He's definitely got the game to win one of the majors - I don't think anyone would question that," said Murphy, who made breaks of 67 and 100 to close his deficit to 5-4.
"He's a great lad and he never shies away from playing the killer shot. What he has got in spades is bottle - he never backs away and if he gets on a roll he can beat anybody.
"I thought it was a really good match on the whole - it could have been the final of any tournament but unfortunately for me it was the first round and I'm on my way home."
Murphy fought back from 5-2 to 5-4 but both men made errors in a scrappy 10th frame that eventually went the way of Allen as he secured a 6-4 victory.
Murphy stood by his decision to try the same shot for a third time in the costly sixth frame. Because he was not snookered, his third miss meant he automatically lost the frame.
He said: "It's the rule. You don't see it very often. Normally you would look for an alternative on the third go. I couldn't see a Plan B.
"All other options left him a guaranteed chance so I had to man up, take a deep breath and play the right shot. Unfortunately I got it completely wrong.
"Did I lose the match because of it? No, I don't think so. There were plenty of other frames.
"I thought it was a really good match played in very good spirit," he added.
All eyes will be on five-time world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan when he continues his comeback from a self-imposed exile against Mark Williams tomorrow afternoon.