It was back in 1975 when the madness we all call "The Masters" started. Then, John Spencer was beating Ray Reardon 9-8 to lift the trophy for the very first time.
The time has passed, snooker has evolved but the fascination has stayed the same regarding this tournament. One very close to people's heart, one that's practically hold only for the elite of snooker (aka. The Top 16 players), one that guarantees you a whole week of good old snooker.
This year the Masters' location has been changed from Wembley to Alexandra Palace, the name itself suggesting how important and prestigious this event is. For only the best, only the greatest and only those who have worked real hard can get a ride to the Palace, right?
Taking a closer look at the draw I can definitely say that we are in for some very delicious snooker treats. If last year we witness all the main favourite players losing their first round matches (excepting Neil Robertson), I'm guessing this year we shall see some pretty intense battles of cues from the very first beginning.
Sadly, this edition is seeing no Stephen Hendry taking part in it as the Scotsman slipped out the Top 16 in October last year, which without any doubt is a bit weird, taking into account that Hendry holds the record for winning the Masters six times.
But let's focus on the first round matches and see who's playing who, shall we?
Ding Junhui v. Ronnie O'Sullivan
|Ding and his 2011 Masters trophy|
However, it's a tough call. A tough call because last time these two met, O'Sullivan beat Ding 7-1 to win his 10th Premier League trophy.
But that’s just one tiny aspect. The major one is that both Ding and O'Sullivan, if they set their mind to it, can trash any opponents; in this case each other.
O'Sullivan has two PTC titles under his belt this season and a Premier League one, his state of mind improving in the last months due to therapy, as the man himself admits it. However, he did make that it's-so-Ronnie-announcement after losing 5-6 to Judd Trump in the 2011 UK Championship, that he's considering retiring and right now he's on the edge of the Top 16 (aka. last place).
|Ronnie has a hard starting match|
On the other hand Ding is the posture of defending his crown. He'll do anything for it and I'm sure the Chinese with the most unreadable Poker Face ever is targeting a victory here.
He's had a pretty good run until this point and after reaching last year's World Championship semi-final (his biggest achievement in this tournament), his style has definitely improved, he's a more mature player and, one hell of a comebacker, if I may say so.
Mark Williams v. Stephen Maguire
|The Welsh Potting Machine in action|
Williams' mind is set for snooker. He's just the perfect player. Doesn't celebrate too much when he wins and he doesn't let it go to his head, but he doesn't kick himself too hard when he loses either. Your rarely see him losing his grip and when he's in "the zone" he's potting like a genuine "potting machine", as his nickname says it so well.
|Maguire on fire|
Maguire seems to have taken some anger management classes, otherwise how can you explain he's more calm than ever and he doesn't smash his cue to the floor when he misses a pot? I’m sure that there's still anger deep inside him, but he's really improved his view towards the game and that improved his game as a whole.
He was practically flying during the PTC 12 and that's what brought him the win in the end. If he keeps up the good work, he might put Williams into trouble.
Judd Trump v. Stuart Bingham
|Judd and his UK trophy|
2011 was Bingham's year of glory, the Essex lad winning his first ranking event, the Australian Open. That clearly gave him a lot of confidence in himself and in his game and although he hasn't won any recent tournaments, he might just try and get this one.
His snooker journey had some ups and downs, but he's a very valuable player and although Trump starts as a favourite here, Bingham has also a chance if he doesn't let Trump's-clearing-the-table-from-one-visit get to him. A good breakout shot and Bingham can do wonders on the green baize.
Shaun Murphy v. Martin Gould
|Murphy after winnig his Brazil Masters|
He played some pretty cool stuff during the recently Championship League matches and if he maintains that cue action in this tournaments also, he's got a genuine chance to get as far as possible.
|Gouldie capturing his Power Snooker crown|
This snooker encounter might be a close one.
John Higgins v. Matthew Stevens
|The current world champion, John Higgins|
Still, this isn't his biggest problem. His biggest problem is that after winning the 2010 UK Championship, the 2011 Welsh Open, the 2011 Hainan Classic, the 2011 Scottish Championship and the 2011 World Championship, he's form hasn't been the same.
|Matt "The Dragon" Stevens|
You know that Dragon that seems to be asleep but in reality he's just faking it so he can take you by surprise? That's Stevens. Although some times the results he gets seem like he's sleeping from real, when he gets to breath fire he's a natural born killer. And this is a perfect opportunity to do so.
Neil Robertson v. Mark Allen
Robbo is one of the golden boys of the moment. He's just won two PTC events and he reached the semi-final of the UK Championship. He’s a former world champion with a great CV regarding how many finals he reached and also won, so he'll be going for the title here. His collection is missing a Masters trophy.
|Allen's targeting a victory|
He proved he's to be taken into consideration and that he'll win a ranking event in the near future. When, is just a matter of time. Maybe the following week?
Mark Selby v. Stephen Lee
|Selby and his Shanghai Masters trophy|
|Lee is a bit frustrated|
Lee had a very prolific last season, but during the current one he doesn't seem to feel as conformable as before. He got a Twitter account to communicate what's on his mind, but he better communicate with his cue during the next days for he needs to improve his game.
Selby starts as a favourite here, but if "Bulldog" Lee puts his mind and cue to work, he can case an easy upset.
Ali Carter v. Graeme Dott
|Carter needs to keep an open mind about his game|
However, he's not a man who feels sorry for himself and he has tried to win back his status. Sadly, this is a very hard process and if you don’t keep your mind in a positive spot, you have no chance. He needs to work on that and a bit on his game and the success is guaranteed.
|The Scot Dott|
But all things aside, no one can deny this man has been though a lot and that he's a great player. I personally admire his ambition. He can still cause upsets, he did manage to reach a PTC final, so go on and do your thing, ey mate?
So this are the first round matches (which are being played udner the "best of 11" rule), the first two taking place tomorrow, as it follows:
Ding Junhui v. Ronnie O'Sullivan
Mark Williams v. Stephen Maguire
*all hours are UK time
13:20 - 17:00 BBC Two
14:15 - 16:30 British EuroSport 2
19:00 - 22:00 British EuroSport 200:00 - 02:50 BBC Two (the highlights)