One of the highlights of the snooker calendar commences on Sunday as sixteen of the world’s top players battle it out for the prestigious Masters title at the Alexandra Palace.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is seen by many as the best player to ever pick up a cue and, having scooped a record seventh Masters trophy, begins his defence against Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.
These two first met in 1998 and this will be their twenty-ninth meeting, some two decades on.
Tim Peters, our snooker betting expert, previews this one…
Last year they played out a very high-quality semi-final here which the Rocket came through by six frames to four.
O’Sullivan’s form has been sublime in recent months, with three more ranking titles secured (31 – now overall), including the much-coveted UK Championship in York. And back in front of his home London crowd, he could well take plenty of stopping.
A 6-3 O’Sullivan win is priced up at 4/1.
Ronnie’s next round opponent could be Mark Allen or Luca Brecel.
These two quick-fired attacking hot-shots are likely to contribute plenty of big breaks, but it’s Allen that leads the head to head three-nil. The Pistol from Belfast has been consistently good all season but in Brecel he faces a twenty-two-year-old who is full of confidence.
The Belgian Bullet won his first full ranking title in August’s China Championship and it would come as no surprise if this match went the distance.
Over 9.5 frames is 21/20 with Grosvenor Sport.
Dual Masters champion John Higgins takes on compatriot and fellow Glaswegian, Anthony McGill. John Higgins is taking some time out after a very hectic first half of the season and could well be under-cooked against his tricky opponent.
McGill has been one of the biggest improvers over the last few years and is known for his diligent practice. His recent form has been somewhat erratic but despite losing to Higgins in the India Open Final (Higgins 29th ranking title) has beaten his fellow Scot on three occasions from eight attempts.
If McGill can settle, he could give Higgins plenty to think about.
— World Snooker (@WorldSnooker1) January 9, 2018
Completing the top half of the draw is China’s greatest ever player Ding Junhui and an in-form Ryan Day.
Ding, had been struggling with an eye infection and, as a result, his form did suffer, but two recent wins to qualify for the German Masters may well restore some much-needed confidence.
In Ryan Day he faces a very dangerous opponent and, despite the Welshman having to change his cue (just a few weeks ago), it didn’t stop him from reaching the UK Championship semi-finals.
Like Ding, he is a very heavy scorer, and I have a suspicion this may go the distance too. Three of their last four matches have gone to a final frame, and that looks the bet here.
Total Frames over 9.5 frames at Evens with Grosvenor, and Day (+1.5 on the handicap) at 19/20.
The bottom half of the Masters Draw see’s Judd Trump take on Liang Wenbo.
The latter won his first ranking title at the 2016 English Open in Manchester when defeating Trump quite convincingly.
These two used to practise quite regularly together, so there are no secrets between them.
Given Trump’s much higher ranking, it is perhaps surprising that they are pretty evenly matched on the head to heads, but whilst Trump has won the European Masters this season he has also endured some frustrating losses.
This match is likely to be close again but I have a feeling that the favourite will just edge through. Trump 6-5 at 7/1 & over 9.5 frames in the match at 23/20.
The next match-up is one for the purist as two of the sweetest ball strikers take to the baize in Shaun Murphy and Ali Carter.
Murphy arrives in fine form having won the Champion Of Champions and then only losing out to a bang in-form Ronnie O Sullivan at the UK Championships in York.
Carter, on the other hand, has been struggling for results but does arrive here off many people’s radars. He has an impressive record against Murphy too and looks overpriced to me.
Murphy either goes deep into tournaments or crashes out at the first hurdle.
Carter is 8/5 to win and may well be worth a flutter.
In the final quarter, Masters runner-up of two years ago, Barry Hawkins, takes on the 2015 Shanghai Masters champion, Kyren Wilson.
The Hawk had been strangely out of sorts but his form has picked up significantly over the past few weeks and is always a dangerous opponent at the Triple Crown events.
Wilson has had an up and down season to date, having reached two finals (before incurring heavy defeats in both), and also experiencing some early tournament exits.
The Kettering cue-man did warm up with a Championship Group success this week and knocked in some big breaks in the process, and does arrive here in good form.
I am expecting a pretty close match but will favour the experience of Barry Hawkins (4/5 to win).
Then we are treated to potentially the tie of the first round as world number one, Mark Selby, renews acquaintances with a back-on-form Mark Williams.
These two met at this very same stage last season and it was Selby who won the thriller 6-5. They actually met five times in 2017 with Selby winning three of them but overall they have met thirty times and won fifteen times apiece.
Williams won his first ranking title in many years when winning a nail-biting Northern Ireland final in November but it may well be the Jester from Leicester who has the last laugh here as he comes into this fresh.
Selby won China’s richest ranking event, The International Championship, and the current world champion made a landmark 500th-century break this week too when he won his Championship Group Final against Barry Hawkins.
His game is ticking over nicely, and I have a feeling this could be his week.
Masters Outright Selections
Ronnie O’Sullivan, is a worthy favourite on current form, to capture an eighth Masters title, but Mark Selby (9/2) looks worth a punt to land a fourth Masters title.