Ladbrokes Mobile Masters Preview

by Timmy Evans

Prize Money: £500,000 (£150,000 to the winner)

Dates: (Sunday January 9th – Sunday January 16th)

Venue: Wembley Arena

The Format: Best-of-11 frames from round-one until semi-finals, Best-of-19 frames final. One table from start of tournament.

The Field: 16

Considered one of three major tournaments of the season, the Masters is firmly placed as the game’s most prestigious invitational event.

An all-star cast will be in attendance, with just the world’s top sixteen players eligible to take part in what is always one of the highest quality tournaments of the year. Each year without fail, the Masters produces arguably the highest level of play seen throughout the season.

The wild-card pick and qualifier slots have been scrapped this season, and the more regular ranking updates should result in an even stronger tournament than usual. Those in attendance at the Wembley Arena are usually among the most vocal followers of the year, and are always quick to lend their support to the local players, most notably down the years Ronnie O’Sullivan & Jimmy White.

There are no ranking points to be played for, but the tournament’s prestige is not in doubt thanks to it’s quality field, one-table set up and the excellent prize money on offer. In short the Masters is never dull, often dramatic, and one of the tournaments every player wants on their CV.

Last Year’s Event:
As per usual, followers of the game were not left shortchanged in terms of entertainment or quality. It was the first tournament of the ‘Barry Hearn revolution’, and featured walk-on music for the first time. The feature split opinion, and the inclusion of Jimmy White in the field was in truth farcical, but what happened on the table was high class, and we were given a final for the ages.

As was the case in 2009, the decider was contested between four-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan (who was lucky to conquer Mark Williams in a fantastic semi-final) and 2008 winner Mark Selby. Defending Champion O’Sullivan entered the final as favourite, and took an early 3-1 advantage thanks to some mesmerising play. Selby got stuck in however and kept himself in touch through some top quality snooker. At 9-6, O’Sullivan appeared to have a fifth Masters all but sewn up, but the scoreline was harsh on Selby and he proved that with a stylish and thrilling fightback.

He claimed an extraordinary century in the seventeenth frame when 30 would have been more likely to narrow the margin to 9-8, and then won a sensational eighteenth frame when O’Sullivan appeared to be on his way to a 10-8 win. Selby won the decider, and was deservedly Masters Champion for the second time.

Masters Winners Taking Part:
6: Stephen Hendry (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996)
4: Ronnie O’Sullivan (1995, 2005, 2007, 2009)
2: Mark Selby (2008, 2010)
2: John Higgins (1999, 2006)
2: Mark Williams (1998, 2003)

Venue Winners Taking Part:
Mark Selby (2008 & 2010), Ronnie O’Sullivan (2007 & 2009)

This Year’s Event:
The Masters tends to lend itself to players who seem to specialise in the surroundings. Stephen Hendry has won this event six times, but his fortunes would deem him lucky to get past World Champion Neil Robertson. Robertson will obviously be among the most feared contenders, but his Masters record is nothing special and I don’t that to change. In that case, there are two names who stand out, the only two players to have won at this venue: Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Selby. Both men are the clear “Masters Specialists” in the field, and I expect both to be well in contention this time around, would have them both as favourites, and a third consecutive final between the pair is not beyond the realms of possibility. O’Sullivan is a player on the way down in my opinion, but is always a different animal at Wembley where he receives staunch support.

Of the rest, the two names who stand out are recent UK finalists Mark Williams and John Higgins. Both men are in-form, and have won the tournament twice, but I don’t expect either to win. Williams will find it tough to overcome his agonising defeat in Telford, and I’d be stunned if he made a complete turnaround at Wembley, while Higgins’ record at the Masters is pretty pedestrian outside of his two wins.

The Draw:
Top Half
Mark Selby v Mark King
Shaun Murphy v Jamie Cope
Mark Williams v Ding Junhui
John Higgins v Graeme Dott

Bottom Half
Ali Carter v Peter Ebdon
Stephen Maguire v Marco Fu
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Allen
Neil Robertson v Stephen Hendry

Top Half

Mark Selby:
Winner: 2008, 2010

Selby has disappointed in ranking events for the most part, but his record at Wembley is mightily impressive, and he appears to be another in a long line of Masters specialists. A deserving winner here twelve months ago in an enthralling final against Ronnie O’Sullivan, Selby was also an impressive winner on his debut in 2008 and was unlucky to lose the 2009 final against O’Sullivan (another thriller between two Masters legends).

I think it’s very clear he’s a different animal when playing at Wembley (as many have been: take O’Sullivan and Hunter to name but two). I fancy him to be bang in contention for a third title, and I’m tipping a fourth final on the spin for the Jester.

Verdict: Runner-up

Mark King:
Though King claimed a famous win against his first round opponent at the Crucible in 2008, it would raise more than one eyebrow if deja vú struck on January 9th. King, as per usual, has been very consistent but lacking in any real flair this season, and though Selby has hardly set the world alight himself, the Masters seems to bring out his very best.

If King is not the first man eliminated from the 2011 Masters, it will represent a major surprise.

Verdict: First round

Shaun Murphy:
After a great run to the UK semi-finals, Murphy will be confident of a decent showing at this year’s Masters. However, in an event that seems to suit certain players, Murphy’s record is nothing special.

He faces a difficult opening hurdle in the capable Jamie Cope, and I think he should have enough to push him aside, but a run as far as the semi-finals would be deemed a success in my books. Quarter-final exit.

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Jamie Cope:
After another disappointing performance at the UK Championship, Cope’s lack of achievement in the bigger events continues with little sign of stopping.

His Masters debut will see him take on Shaun Murphy in an intriguing first round contest, and I think Cope will put in a decent showing, but to no avail. A narrow opening round loss is the most likely outcome.

Verdict: First round

Mark Williams:
Winner: 1998, 2003

Williams proved one thing at Telford: he is still good enough to win major snooker tournaments. The question now is, can he recover from what was the most agonising of final defeats?

I think Williams will have performed something of a miracle if he can turn around from that heartbreaking loss, and take the very next title on offer. He opens against Ding Junhui, and considering Ding’s poor form should put him away. But Williams has a mountain to climb now. Losing a UK final having left Higgins needing snookers with the required ten frames seemingly wrapped up will challenge him. I think he can conquer Higgins in round two, but winning the tournament will be a step too far.

Verdict: Semi-finals

Ding Junhui:
The four time ranking event winner and 2007 finalist probably faces Mark Williams at the right time. The Welshman took a big hit in Telford, but his form is still considerably better than China’s finest.

Ding hasn’t played at all well this season, and his UK defence was relatively tame, going out in round two, and his form would not suggest that he’ll get too far at Wembley. A tight first round tussle should see him come out in second place

Verdict: First round

John Higgins:
Winner: 1999, 2006

Though John Higgins is a four time Wembley finalist, and has won the tournament twice, he also has a plethora of first round exits to his name when it comes to snooker’s blue riband invitational.

His return to action has been stunning. With two PTC finals already bagged, his UK Championship win was nothing short of extraordinary, and highlights what a brilliant player he really is. Though I consider Higgins a contender for every tournament he lines up at, the Masters traditionally does not bring out his best. He’s good enough to win the whole thing, obviously, but I don’t see that happening somehow. Then again, when have I ever been right with predicting Higgins’ fortunes?

Verdict: Second round

Graeme Dott
A poor record at The Masters, coupled with a dodgy opening round draw against the World Number One would suggest Dott won’t be hanging around Wembley for too long. Dott’s a quality player, but a first round draw with Higgins and a potential second round clash with Williams leave him in an unenviable position, and hopes of making even the semi-final are pretty slim.

Verdict: First round

Bottom Half

Ali Carter
After going through a richly consistent vein of form, Carter’s loss to the little known Mark Joyce over seventeen frames came as a major surprise. Carter has never blown observers away, but his consistency in producing solid results has been impressive, and saw him rise as high as second in the World Rankings.

Carter faces a very tricky opening round match, the always intense Peter Ebdon. Ebdon himself comes into the tournament on the back of a disappointing UK, and I feel will bow out against the Captain.

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Peter Ebdon
Having tipped him to do well at Telford, I was disappointed to see Ebdon bow out meekly at the hands of Andrew Higginson.

Ebdon has never even made it as far as a Masters final, surprising considering his World and UK successes. He’s a player past his heyday, and though he cannot be taken lightly, it would surprise me if a man with such a poor Masters pedigree past his prime can take a win against the highly ranked Carter.

Verdict: First round

Stephen Maguire
A decent run at Telford, where he took the scalp of Mark Selby and very nearly eventual winner John Higgins, is bound to give Maguire a bit of extra confidence heading into the Masters.

Twice a semi-finalist here, Maguire should be too good for Marco Fu, and I feel could take a tight win in round two against either Ali Carter or Peter Ebdon. A decent showing is more than possible.

Verdict: Semi-finals

Marco Fu
Hard to read his form from the UK. Taking out someone as good as Barry Hawkins surprised me considering that Fu has been struggling with his game for a long time, but a 9-2 loss to Stuart Bingham wasn’t forecast either. In short, Fu has left me very confused heading into this one.

He faces Maguire in the opening round, a man he famously annihilated at the Crucible in 2006. Fu however was in top form at that event, the kind of form we haven’t seen for many a day.

Verdict: First round

Ronnie O’Sullivan
Winner: 1995, 2005, 2007, 2009

The best equipped player of the current crop, O’Sullivan has contested eight Masters finals, winning four and unlucky not to win two or three more.

I watched his miserable display against Stuart Bingham in Telford with derision, and I honestly don’t feel O’Sullivan will be a winner at UK Championships or World Championships in the future. He is however, a man who thrives at Wembley, and is still very much the man to beat at The Masters.

I think he has a tough draw with the possibility of Allen & Robertson, but I feel he can get past both, and take the title. Not that I feel he’s the player of old, I just think he’s a different animal at this tournament.

Verdict: Winner

Mark Allen
He performed well at the UK, making it to semi-finals and only losing out in a very high quality semi-final, but the draw for the Masters was anything but kind. Ronnie O’Sullivan may not pack his familiar punch, but his Masters record is enviable, and has played in five of the last six finals.

Allen is good enough to beat Ronnie, he proved that on the biggest stage of all under intense pressure. I think he’ll be edged out, narrowly
Verdict: First round

Neil Robertson

He lost his World Number One status at Telford, but the World Champion is still going to be a serious contender for Masters glory, no question.

He is however a man with a largely pedestrian record here. When he started well against Ronnie last year, he was nowhere near the mark for the last seven frames, as the Wembley crowd stepped up their game as well as O’Sullivan.

Having hammered the Rocket in the World Open final, and Stephen Hendry’s lack of form, Robertson could find himself at the business end, but I think Ronnie may take him in front of his home fans.

Verdict: Quarter-finals

Stephen Hendry
Winner: 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1996

The tournament’s most succesful player held his head high after a decent showing against the in-form eventual runner-up Mark Williams in December. That said, Hendry’s days of contending are long over, and a major clash against the World Champion is unlikely to bear fruit.

I do think he’ll keep his pride though, and won’t be brushed aside. After all, this is Hendry we’re talking about, and his reasonable UK showing gives cause for mild confidence. That said, I think four frames may be his overall tally, and anything after that is bonus territory.

Verdict: First round

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