Just two weeks after the conclusion of the PDC World Darts Championship, Ally Pally opens its doors to another big sporting event this weekend, as the Masters rolls back into town.
Starting on Sunday, the sixteen best snooker players in the world will converge in London, and compete for the 2017 Dafabet Masters crown, with stars such as Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Selby and Ding Junhui all hoping to be the one lifting the trophy aloft next week.
While most ranking events now include all of the sport’s 128 professional players, this tournament invites only the elite few, with the top 16 in the world rankings being invited to compete. This year’s field contains seven former World Champions, and another three World finalists.
Despite the fact that the Masters is not a ranking event, it is considered by many as the second biggest tournament in the sport, after the World Championship. It will certainly be hotly contested, with everyone wanting to get their hands on the famous Masters trophy.
While it isn’t a ranking event, it is still a very prestigious event in the annual snooker calendar, and it makes up one third of the much-coveted ‘Triple Crown’, along with the UK Championship and the World Championship events.
Began in 1975 at the West Centre Hotel in London, where John Spencer became the inaugural champion, defeating Ray Reardon 9-8 in the final. At that time, jus tthe top 10 leading players were invited to compete, but then grew to the current number of 16 in 1983.
The tournament’s most successful player is Ronnie O’Sullivan, who has won the title on six occasions – including last year’s event when he thrashed Barry Hawkins 10-1 in the final – in addition to five runner’s ups. Seven-time World Champion Stephen Hendry has also won six times, and has finished as runner-up on three occasions.
This year’s event will be the 43rd staging of the competition, and it will also be the first edition of the tournament since the decision to rename the trophy in honour of former player Paul Hunter, who died of cancer in 2006.
This year’s contenders
Ronnie O’Sullivan (11/4)
The game’s leading personality is the bookies’ favourite to lift the Masters trophy a week on Sunday, an honour he has had on no fewer than six occasions. Despite his exhaustive list of honours (5 x Worlds, 5 x UK Champ, 6 x Masters), Ronnie has only won one tournament since his Masters triumph 12 months ago (2016 Welsh Open), and he will be looking to put an end to that run and defend his title at Ally Pally this week.
Mark Selby (9/2)
While O’Sullivan is normally the bookies’ favourite, defending World Champion Mark Selby is usually the next name on the list. Selby is also the current World number 1 by some distance, and won the UK Championship last month.
A win this week would mean that Selby would be the first man to hold the World, UK and Masters titles all at the same time since Mark Williams won all three in the 2002-03 season. Incidentally, the two aforementioned players meet in the first round on Wednesday.
Judd Trump (7/1)
After winning the European Masters and reaching the final of the English Open, it has been a solid first half of the season for Judd Trump. The former Crucible finalist has never got past the semi-final stage at the Masters however, and the Bristolian will be looking to put that right this time around, but he may have to see off at least one of O’Sullivan and John Higgins if he is to achieve that.
John Higgins (7/1)
Higgins himself is a seasoned Masters competitor, having appeared in the competition no fewer than 22 times, and winning it on two occasions (1999, 2006). After a couple of dips in form, the Scot is back to somewhere resembling his best, and currently sits at number three in the world.
Ding Junhui (10/1)
Ding Junhui was thwarted in his latest attempt at becoming the first Asian World Champion in May last year, but he already has one Masters crown to his name, winning the tournament in 2011. The Chinese briefly slipped to 17th in the rankings last year, but has now worked his way back up to fifth in the world, and after being handed a favourable draw, he will have his sights set on the semi-finals at the very least.
Neil Robertson (12/1)
The 2016-17 campaign has not been one of Neil Robertson’s finest so far. Despite winning the first ranking event of the season in Latvia in June, the Australian has failed to reach a ranking final in seven attempts since, and has only reached the last eight on two occasions.
However, class is permanent and count the former World Champion out at your peril, he will be as tough to beat as anyone else in the field, and if he can find a way past O’Sullivan in their potential quarter-final match up, then don’t be surprised if he goes all the way.
The tournament get under way on Sunday, with defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan taking on Liang Wenbo, followed by Ding Junhui’s match with Kyren Wilson.
The whole tournament is live on the BBC.