As we head into a new year with a new start, the familiar sight of the Masters is a welcome beginning to a sporting year. Snooker’s most prestigious invitational tournament holds many memories and is hotly anticipated, particularly as Ronnie O’Sullivan makes his return to competitive action after a brief hiatus from the game.
The ‘Rocket’ has had his ups and downs over the years but the one thing that has always shone through is his natural talent on the baize, and it comes as no surprise that tickets are in high demand for his opening match against another former champion in Mark Williams. The break that O’Sullivan has had from the game might well have recharged the batteries and while some players would be a little rusty after such a period away from the table, Ronnie has never been the type of player who needs to spend many long arduous hours at the practice table to hone his skills.
He is still one Masters title short of Stephen Hendrie’s record of six wins here, and that extra motivation makes him worth following in this year’s competition. Last year’s victor, Shaun Murphy, may also be worth a small side bet as he makes his challenge from the other half of the draw in defence of the trophy he won last year. It all adds up to what should be an excellent tournament with snooker’s top 16 players all present and correct, ready to fight it out for this illustrious title.
The Masters dates back to 1975 and along with the World Championship and the UK Championship, makes up snookers Triple Crown. It has a prize fund of £600,000, with a massive £200,000 on offer to the winner, and will be contested from Sunday the 10th of January to Sunday the 17th. Tickets for O’Sullivan’s first televised match since his return to the circuit on Tuesday the 12th have almost sold out, and he is certain to have huge support from the Alexandra Palace crowd.
The draw has put last year’s winner and number one see Shaun Murphy up against Mark Allen in his opening game, but the top half of the draw also includes the likes of Judd Trump and Neil Robertson, and there are simply no easy games at this very top level.
The bottom half of the draw features World Champion and number two seed, Stuart Bingham, and also includes Mark Selby and of course, Ronnie O’Sullivan. The latter two could well meet in a special quarter final if they get past their respective opening matches against Ricky Walden and Mark Williams, and if that happens it will be another eagerly awaited clash.
Arguably the game’s most talented man has been rewarded for his services to snooker with an OBE recently, and it would be fitting for him to follow that up with a record-equaling victory here. He said in a blog for Eurosport last year that he didn’t want the pressure of being the top man in the game anymore, and wanted to hand the mantle over to the next generation of players, but also said that he still wanted a place in the sport and is actually enjoying his practice more than ever.
Some players need to feel that pressure to push themselves to achieve, but O’Sullivan has always struck us as the type of player who is at his best when he’s relaxed, and the break he’s had could well be an advantage rather than a disadvantage. A good start against Williams could give him the confidence to push ahead, and despite the relaxed attitude he will surely have an eye on matching Stephen Hendrie’s record. At the price on offer, he’s worth taking a chance on.
He has failed to scale the heights of his incredible 10-2 triumph against Neil Robertson in last year’s final, but his number one seeding here has given him a chance to put things right by having a good tilt at the title. Mark Allen is his first opponent, and if he can navigate his way past the number 11 seed, he’ll face either Barry Hawkins or Joe Perry in the quarter final. Potential semi final opponents include Neil Robertson and Judd Trump, but anything can happen in the last four of a tournament, and if Murphy gets to that stage he’ll be in with more than a fighting chance.
We backed Neil Robertson to take the UK Championship and he duly obliged at a tasty +600 but he may have his work cut out to repeat the trick here. He opens against Marco Fu in the first round, but looks to on a collision course with Judd Trump in the quarter final, and that is enough to put us off backing either player. They’ve been two of the most consistent performers in recent years, but a match between the two could easily be ‘the toss of a coin’ as to who would come through, and any bet is something of a leap of faith. Both will, however, represent a real danger to Shaun Murphy if he ends up facing one of them in a semi final.
From the bottom half of the draw, Mark Selby also stands out, but his form in the latter part of 2015 hasn’t done enough to inspire confidence here, and he’ll face O’Sullivan if both progress to the quarter final. Again that’s enough to put us off a punt. We’ll stick with the double selection of O’Sullivan and Murphy to give us a decent shot from either half of the draw.
Ronnie O’Sullivan to win the 2016 Masters
10th – 17th January 2016
Shaun Murphy to win the 2016 Masters – Each Way
10 – 17th January 2016
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