Thursday, 19 January 2012

In close quarters

It's been an exciting opening four days at the Masters - and now we're ready for the business end of the tournament.

Every top 16 player has made their Alexandra Palace debut and we're down to the final eight and set for the quarter-finals.

If there really were no easy draws in the first round, there definitely isn't now after the bookmakers' favourite won in every match.

We may not have had the drama of a deciding frame in the competition yet but some of the snooker on show has been of the highest order with a few players staking a claim as title contenders.

The pressure is about to step up a notch as the first round winners return for their second match of the tournament...
Picture by Monique Limbos

The pick of the quarter-final draw sees Judd Trump take on Ronnie O'Sullivan.

The Rocket has a formidable record at the Masters having already played in nine finals.

He's never an easy draw in front of his home crowd but hasn't had the beating of Judd in their recent meetings.

Trump has beaten him twice this season in the final of PTC9 in Antwerp and more recently en route to his UK Championship win.

Psychologically this will give Judd a huge boost going into the match but this could yet turn out to be his biggest test against O'Sullivan to date.

Trump is the man of the moment, riding a huge wave of confidence. He and played match-winning snooker at the perfect time to see of Stuart Bingham in round one but Ronnie also looked in good shape when he beat defending champion Ding Junhui on the opening day of the tournament.

Ronnie loves a challenge and might see this match as the perfect time to remind people of what he can do while the focus has been on Judd. Either way, they're both big game players so this could be another classic.

The quarter-final Australia's Neil Robertson takes on Welshman Mark Williams also promises to be a gem.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Both of these players are currently ranked within the top four of the world and have proven themselves as great champions.

You can expect a high-standard match between two great attacking left-handed players, who know how to mix it safety-wise too.

Williams has already carved his name on this special trophy twice before and showed glimpses of his flowing best when he beat Stephen Maguire in the first round.

He's experimenting with a new cue at the moment but  has the advantage of a relaxed attitude towards matches, which will ensure he copes with the switch.  

Robertson also scored an impressive win against Mark Allen in his opening match.

He made some big clearances along the way and looked bang in focus.

He's capable of beating anyone and always looks as if he tailors his gameplan according to who he's playing. Neil has come on leaps and bounds as a player over the last 18 months. His safety has improved and he's making less mistakes owing to the fact that he seems to have slowed down when break building.

Mark Selby comes up against Shaun Murphy, and they both go into this game with contrasting records at this tournament.
Picture by Monique Limbos

World number one Selby has only played in the event four times but has already won it twice and finished runner-up in another. Conversely, this will be Murphy's fifth appearance at a Masters quarter-final but he has yet to convert that record into a place in the last four.

He showed signs he could be ready to go that step further this year after a proficient 6-2 victory against Martin Gould in round one.

Murphy looks in superb nick after four good days of match parctice at Crondon Park and admitted he's pushing the boat out a little more than usual after seeing the success it has brought his opponents in recent tournaments.

Selby stuttered in his first match against Stephen Lee. Despite building what looked an unassailable 5-1 lead, he eventually edged through 6-4 but was nearly pushed to a decider.

He'll be looking for a better performance in this one because he knows Murphy is reliable at picking up results when his rivals slip away from their best form.

Despite such a sensational record at the tournament Selby lost to Mark King in the first round last season and will be keen to recapture his form in London after another patchy performance this week.

Two Scottish world champions come head-to-head as John Higgins locks horns with Graeme Dott as well.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Higgins has struggled at the Masters in recent seasons. Before beating Matthew Stevens 6-2 earlier this week he had lost four of his last five first round matches here.

That suggests he finds it tough in London but his overall record is not so bad as he's twice won the title and twice finished runner-up.

He's yet to hit top form this season but could easily start producing in this match.

John will need to count on all his steel to get past Dott who continues to prove himself as one of the toughest match players around.

He was nowhere near his best against Ali Carter but managed to scrap through 6-3 and show how important it is to have a match-winning B-game. This tie could either way. They're both capable break builders but also know how to tough it out.

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