Friday, 13 January 2012

The Masters: BIG tournament preview

The Masters remains one of the most prestigious titles in snooker - some would even say bigger than the UK Championship.

This superb invitational event - although it offers no ranking points - has a rich history and earns the winner a handsome £150,000.

Only the World Championship betters it for prize money, and arguably prestige too.

Some of the game's greatest cueists have made their mark at the Masters, as it's a tournament every player gets revved up for.

It's a title every player wants on their CV.

But with only the top 16 invited to play, it is also one of the most difficult trophies to win.

Like every season, there's so many players capable of winning the event. The field is packed with quality, as usual.

That will never change. But what has changed is the venue.

Barry Hearn has moved the Masters to Alexandra Palace for the first time and it promises to give an already popular London-based event another boost.

The atmosphere is expected to crank right up this year.

I can't wait for it to get going.

They said...

Shaun Murphy goes into the tournament full of confidence after a run of fine form in the Championship League this week. He said in a blog: "I can’t wait to get there after four good days at Crondon Park. It was very nice to win Group Two and the Championship League has given me a great preparation for Ally Pally.

"I will certainly go there pleased with the state of my game, knowing that it’s in good shape. It’s easy to get over-bullish but my results suggest that I am playing well and I’ve been practising hard.

"Of the major events in our calendar, the tournament is the one which I have the worst record of all in. I’ve never reached the semi-finals."

World number one and two-time winner Mark Selby is among the favourites to lift the title. He said: "Each player seems to excel at a different type of tournament and with me, it appears to have been at the Masters.

"The big crowds seem to bring out the best of me and I play my best snooker."

Though, it's Neil Robertson's who has picked up more ranking points than anyone so far this season. The Aussie said: "I'm looking forward to it and it is a tournament everyone dreams of winning.

"This year, I'm as well prepared for the Masters as I've ever been so hopefully I can take a lot of the form that I've shown this season into it.

Hopefully I can start a new run of major tournament victories, beginning with the Masters - I have as good a chance as anyone this year."

While for Stuart Bingham, it's no territory now he's at the top end of the rankings. He said: "It's nice to be in the elite finally and it does make it more special knowing I'm there because I'm in the top 16.

"You always wish that you're going to get there one day and it has taken me ages, but maybe now I'm a better player because of it."

Last time out...

Ding Junhui added this illustrious title to his armoury after a 10-4 victory against fellow countryman Marco Fu in the final.

It was nearly different, though.

He led 6-2 at the interval but was pulled back to 6-4. Only an excellent snooker in frame 11 denied Marco coming back to within a frame, before he went on to score a comfortable victory.

Aside from the final, it was a tournament full of shocks. Seven of the eight players who made it through to the quarter-finals had beaten higher ranked players to get there.

At the bookmakers...

Selby appears to be the bookies' favourite with odds of 11/2, followed closely by Trump and O'Sullivan both at 6/1.

Good money may go on Allen at 14/1 or Williams at 12/1.

The rank outsider is Lee with odds of 40/1.

Click here for the full list.

My tip...

It's difficult to pick out a winner in such a quality field. Trump's win at the UK Championship proves he's a man for the big occasion. He'd be my favourite along with Selby, who has a great pedigree in this tournament. I'm going to stick my neck out  for Murphy though. He's playing well and has yet to enjoy real success at the Masters.

Full first round draw...

Ding Junhui v Ronnie O'Sullivan
Mark Williams v Stephen Maguire
Judd Trump v Stuart Bingham
Shaun Murphy v Martin Gould
John Higgins v Matthew Stevens
Neil Robertson v Mark Allen
Mark Selby v Stephen Lee
Ali Carter v Graeme Dott

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