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Ronnie O’Sullivan won an epic final in the UK Championships in December against Judd Trump, when he had to cope with a brilliant comeback by his opponent, and a broken ankle. The snooker legend broke his left ankle while out running prior to the tournament, and wore a protective brace in the early rounds, but the pain almost forced him to pull out of the competition. He’ll be glad he fought through the pain barrier, and picked up a 147 in his quarter-final before beating Trump 10-9 in the classic final. He goes to Alexandra Palace in January looking to win his 6th Masters, and it’s hard to look beyond the man who took this title last year.
Although it’s not a ranking tournament, the Masters is considered one of Snooker’s most prestigious competitions. It’s the second longest running tournament after the World Championship, and is one of the Triple Crown events. It brings together the top 16 players in the world, and comes with a prize fund of £600,000 – of which £200,000 is awarded to the winner, along with the famous trophy.
The draw has already been made for the tournament, and the first round to be played from Sunday 11th January to Wednesday 14th January is as follows:
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ricky Walden
Stuart Bingham v Marco Fu
Barry Hawkins v Ali Carter
Neil Robertson v Robert Milkins
Ding Junhui v Joe Perry
Mark Allen v John Higgins
Judd Trump v Stephen Maguire
Mark Selby v Shaun Murphy
The Quarter-finals will be held on Thursday 15th and Friday 16th, with the Semi-finals on Saturday 17th and the final on Sunday 18th January.
Ronnie O’Sullivan is one of the greatest players that the game has ever produced, and he feels that he is finding more consistency and getting better with age. At 39 years old, the multiple-champion has set himself new targets to maintain his motivation for the game. He’s quoted as saying that he wants to achieve 1,000 century breaks before he retires. At the moment he’s five centuries short of Stephen Hendry’s record of 775, but rather than just beating the record, O’Sullivan wants to set the new landmark of 1,000, and has given himself three more years of playing to achieve it. After December’s UK Championship win, he has won each of the UK, World, and Masters titles five times, and his total haul of 27 ranking wins leaves him one behind Steve Davis and nine behind Hendry in the all-time list.
His odds are understandably short, but he’s in excellent form going into the tournament, and it’s hard to see who can beat him. If he wins the first round tie against Ricky Walden, it would set up a quarter-final against Stuart Bingham or Marco Fu, which you would expect Ronnie to win. That would put him in the semi-final with just two matches to win to become the first player to win back-to-back Masters since the late Paul Hunter achieved the feat in 2001 and 2002.
O’Sullivan’s opponent in that epic UK final, Judd Trump, is next in the betting, and he ran Ronnie very close in that match so has to be considered. Trump had fallen 9-4 behind before staging an incredible comeback to level the scores at 9-9. From there even Ronnie admitted that he thought he was going to lose, but Trump’s foul after a snooker opened the door for him to snatch the final frame and win 10-9. Trump is currently ranked 7th in the World and certainly has the quality to go far in the tournament. However, the draw could see him pitched against current World Champion Mark Selby in the quarter-finals, and that’s a potentially tough match to call.
Neil Robertson – +750 with Betvictor
Neil Robertson won the Masters in 2012, and reached the final in 2013 where he lost to Mark Selby. The Australian player is in good form, and can be a big contender for this tournament. The draw has been relatively kind to him, and if he gets past Robert Milkins in the first round, he would face Barry Hawkins or Ali Carter in the quarter-final. Both players would present a challenge, but Robertson could be fancied to beat either to take his place in the semi-finals. From there anything could happen, and he has a good chance of upsetting the favourite at a decent price.
China’s number one snooker player, Ding Junhui, lost to O’Sullivan in the 2007 final, before picking up his first Masters four years later in 2011. He’s currently ranked 2nd in the world rankings, and in the 2013/2014 season he equalled Stephen Hendry’s record of winning five ranking titles in the same season. He’s made the semi-finals of the Shanghai Masters and the Champion of Champions tournament this season, and although it hasn’t been a brilliant year, he did become the first Asian player to briefly be ranked world number one before Robertson reclaimed the position a week later. He could be a big contender with a draw that sees him face Joe Perry in the first round, and either John Higgins or Mark Allen in the quarter-finals.
Mark Selby – +850 with Boylesports
The current World Champion has also held the number one ranking position this season, but has dropped to 4th place behind Robertson, Junhui, and O’Sullivan. He has been one of snooker’s best players over recent years though, and can raise his game in the big competitions. He’s won three of the last seven Masters, and appeared in two other finals, so has the best pedigree coming into the tournament. He’s a decent price for an outside shot, but that potential quarter final against Judd Trump dampens the enthusiasm somewhat.
With Ronnie O’Sullivan in excellent form and with a good draw, it’s hard to look past him winning the Masters again this year. For those who like a bigger price, and each-way punt on Robertson would pay out at 1/2 the odds for a top two finish.
To win the Masters (January 11th to 18th 2015)
Neil Robertson – Each Way – +750 with Betvictor
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