The Masters is set to begin this weekend and it promises to be a superb tournament with the world’s very best all in attendance. Ronnie O’Sullivan has ended his seven-month hiatus from the game to return at Alexandra Palace, and he is rightly among the favourites to take the trophy for a record-equaling sixth time. Shaun Murphy returns to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs to defend the title he won last year by thrashing Neil Robertson 10-2 in the final. Robertson himself is in fine form after scooping the recent UK Championship, while the likes of Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Stuart Bingham will all be fighting it out for this prestigious title.
We’ve already offered our bets for the outright winner of the tournament, and with two matches each day from Sunday to Wednesday, it’s time to turn our attention to the opening games of the competition.
Sunday 10th January
Stuart Bingham v Ding Junhui
Shaun Murphy v Mark Allen
Sunday’s outings see Stuart Bingham take on Ding Junhui in the evening session, but it’s Shaun Murphy who will carry our money at -149 with Betfred and Totesport when he battles it out with Mark Allen in the curtain-raiser to the tournament at 1 pm on Sunday afternoon.
Murphy hasn’t had a sterling year since winning here last year, with his best effort a run to the last 16 in the UK Championship where he was beaten 6-4 by Marco Fu. However, he has beaten Mark Allen the last three times they’ve cued off against one another, including wins in last year’s Masters and the German Masters. He has what it takes to make it a great start to the competition and set up a quarter final against either Barry Hawkins or Joe Perry. His number one seeding here has given him a decent chance of progressing deep into the tournament, and he will not relinquish the title without a fight.
Allen has had made some decent efforts this year in competition, reaching the semi finals of the Shanghai Masters, the quarter finals of the International Championship and the final of the Champion of Champion tournaments, where he lost 10-5 to Neil Robertson. He’ll pose a threat to the selection, but we expect to see Murphy come through over 11 frames.
Monday 11th January
Barry Hawkins v Joe Perry
Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire
Barry Hawkins and Joe Perry also face off on the day, but that has the look of a match that could easily go either way. Trump has struggled a little for form in the later part of 2015, since reaching the quarter final of the Australian Open and the final of the Shanghai Masters, but he remains a top class player and is seeded number five for this tournament. He also owes Maguire a little bit of revenge for the 5-1 beating he received in the aforementioned quarter final of the Goldfields competition.
Maguire takes the 16th seed for this event, and while he is a very able competitor, if Trump brings his best form to the table he’ll be hard to live with. The Scottish player hasn’t had a ranking tournament win since the 2012/13 season, and while he performs with regular consistency, our money will still be on Judd Trump to do the business and set up a potentially mouth-watering quarter final against Neil Robertson.
Tuesday 12th January
Mark Selby v Ricky Walden
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Williams
Although Mark Selby and Ricky Walden take the evening slot, it’s the eagerly awaited return of Ronnie O-Sullivan which will grab the headlines as he takes on Welsh veteran Mark Williams on Tuesday afternoon.
We’ve tipped the Rocket to go all the way at Alexandra Palace, and that should include a hopefully routine victory against Williams here. He’s beaten the former world champion on six of the last seven occasions they’ve met, with the only defeat a 6-5 reverse in the 2014 International Championship in China. While Ronnie has had his sabbatical Williams has had a quiet season so far, exiting the the International Championship and the UK Championship at the second round stage, with just a quarter final appearance in the Shanghai Masters the highlight of the 2015/16 season. He did win the World Seniors Championship in the 2014/15 season though, as well as three semi final and one final appearances, so he will run O’Sullivan all the way if on his best form.
Ronnie won the UK Championship and the Champion of Champion tournaments in 2014/15, and reached the semi final of this competition last year where he was defeated by Neil Robertson. Such is his class though that if he’s anywhere near his best he should be able to take care of Williams to set up a quarter against Selby or Walden.
Wednesday 13th January
John Higgins v Liang Wenbo
Neil Robertson v Marco Fu
The Australian player did it in style for us at the UK Championship, going all the way after we tipped him prior to the tournament. He can be backed as our selection for Wednesday’s games which also involve John Higgins and Liang Wenbo.
Robertson is in fine fettle after taking his own short break last summer, and he came back to form impeccably at the UK Championship, beating Wenbo in a final which was the first ever in the history of the competition not to feature a British player. He could come up against that adversary again in the quarter final, if as expected, he comes through this opener against Fu.
Shaun Murphy to beat Mark Allen
Sunday 10th January, 13:00 GMT
Judd Trump to beat Stephen Maguire
Monday 11th January, 13:00 GMT
Ronnie O’Sullivan to beat Mark Williams
Tuesday 12th January, 13:00 GMT
Neil Robertson to beat Marco Fu
Wednesday 13th January, 19:00 GMT
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