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The Alexandra Palace was home to the hottest ticket in British sport over the Christmas period as the PDC World Darts Championship came to town. The surrounding area has just got over the influx of thousands of darts fans dressed up as Kiss, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un but it’s time for more fans to visit Ally Pally for the 2018 Masters.
Thankfully for those who live around Wood Green, snooker fans are a more sedate bunch than those who turn up for a night out at the darts. Those who with tickets to the Masters prefer the gentle simmer of tension that comes with a snooker match compared to the speedy drama of darts and the draw suggests they’ll be treated to some excellent drama this coming week.
16 world class players have won invites to snooker’s second Triple Crown event of the season. Few other snooker tournaments have the same level of prestige as the Masters and there’s a very healthy £200,000 prize awaiting the winner. Defending champion and number one seed, Ronnie O’Sullivan is once again the man to beat according to the bookies but he’ll have to be at his best to extend his own winning record at the Masters which currently stands at seven.
Ronnie O’Sullivan 9/2 (Boylesports)
Mark Selby 5/1 (Ladbrokes)
Judd Trump 6/1 (Paddy Power)
John Higgins 8/1 (Boylesports)
Shaun Murphy 14/1 (Betfred)
Ding Junhui 14/1 (Ladbrokes)
Barry Hawkins 28/1 (Betfred)
Mark Williams 33/1 (Sportingbet)
There are few surprises at the top of the betting market for the Masters. O’Sullivan is the favourite for pretty much every tournament he enters and he’s closely followed by a selection of big names. Snooker fans who tend to only tune in for the bigger events may not recognise the likes of Anthony McGill and Luca Brecel who are making their Masters debut though. As new talent comes in somebody must inevitably be left out and this year the big absence is 2012 champion, Neil Robertson, despite the fact that he is 13th in the world rankings thanks to his Scottish Open win.
That’s harsh on a player of Robertson’s quality but the small field at the Masters is what makes it so special. Despite the first eight players being seeded they are guaranteed to face a world class opponent over 11 frames so every player must hit the ground running.
A slow start nearly cost Ronnie O’Sullivan in last year’s Masters but he managed to scrape past Liang Wenbo 6-5 in the first round. That scare helped get the best out of the Rocket for the rest of the tournament which he won courtesy of 6-3, 6-4 and 10-7 scorelines.
O’Sullivan knows that he cannot afford a similarly slow start this time around and he’s aided by the fact that his first game isn’t until Tuesday. He can watch the action unfold on Monday either at home (which is only a short drive away from Alexandra Palace) or at the venue. Either way it will get the competitive juices flowing and should ensure that he’s raring to go which is bad news for his first round opponent, Marco Fu, and, indeed, the whole of the draw.
It took O’Sullivan 10 years to win the Masters twice which lead some pundits to suggest that something about it doesn’t suit him. He’s put those doubts firmly to bed since and looks very much at home at Ally Pally. He has world class opposition but O’Sullivan should oblige favourite backers with another Masters win at 9/2 with Boylesports.
Ronnie O’Sullivan 11/8 (Coral)
Mark Selby 5/2 (Ladbrokes)
Judd Trump 11/4 (William Hill)
John Higgins 11/4 (Betfred)
Shaun Murphy 6/1 (Betfred)
Ding Junhui 13/2 (Coral)
They might not admit it, but everybody in the second half of the draw will breathe a sigh of relief that they won’t have to face O’Sullivan until the final. Moreover, those eight players will believe that by the time they reach a potential final they’ll be full of confidence and ready to take on the best snooker player of all time.
If you’re having a bet on a player to reach the final it makes sense to concentrate on the bottom half of the draw which means passing on quality players like John Higgins and Ding Junhui who are towards the top of the betting.
Shaun Murphy is the last man to win the Masters other than O’Sullivan and he’ll be confident about his chances of reaching his third final. The sixth seed does have a very tough first round draw against Ali Carter but the size of that task will get him up to speed quickly which may give him the edge in the next rounds so back him to make the final at 6/1 with Betfred.
Ronnie O’Sullivan to win at 9/2 with Boylesports
Shaun Murphy to make the final at 6/1 with Betfred