Betfair will have comprehensive live coverage of the second major of the snooker season from Sunday. Here's Paul Krishnamurty's preview...
"The three time Masters champion looks primed for another major and was running into peak form before Christmas. Best-of-11 or longer has historically brought out his best too."
The 2020 snooker year belonged to Judd Trump. He won six titles, reached eight finals and finished the year over 800,000 ranking points ahead of his nearest pursuer. Somewhat oddly though, he failed to win any of the majors.
Trump is overdue in a major
Kyren Wilson had his measure at the World Championship, Neil Robertson by the smallest of margins in the UK Championship and he lost in the first round to Shaun Murphy when defending this Masters title.
It is very hard to see that trend persisting much longer and he thoroughly deserves a clear advantage in the betting.
Restricted to the top-16 players, The Masters is commonly referred to as the strongest event of the season. The top section, however, does not have that feel. Thinking about form since play resumed in July after the first lockdown, I'd replace at least three of the four.
Murphy has spoken openly about his struggles, mentally and even physically, living in isolation, away from his family. His game was in dire shape before Christmas. Mark Williams has rarely impressed in ages. Debutant Thepchaiya Un-Nooh is far from certain to ever qualify again, and has done nothing this term.
Nor has Stuart Bingham done anything special but the defending champion is nonetheless preferred. There have been at least glimpses of top form, including a 147 in the Championship League.
In-form Selby primed for fourth title
Consequently, the second section is much likelier to produce the finalist, most probably either Robertson or Selby. They met in each of the last two majors, with the Aussie gaining revenge at the UK for a drubbing at the Crucible. Their first round chances are similar, against Stephen Maguire and Yan Bingtao respectively.
Robbo's chance is undeniable and it has been a long time since I went against the Aussie in a choice between this pair but, after a long spell of unreliability, the Jester has won me over.
The three time Masters champion looks primed for another major and was running into peak form before Christmas. Best-of-11 or longer has historically brought out his best too.
Trust Trump to deliver
Back Judd Trump 9u @ 3.8514/5
Trump has been a great friend to the column for the last two years and is confidently picked again. A tally of only three majors is probably the only area in which he's lacking and his hunger to accumulate titles is crystal clear.
He's become ultra-reliable in the latter stages of tournaments, against world-class opponents in the one-table set-up he'll encounter from the start. On recent evidence David Gilbert won't present a huge threat in the first round but Crucible conqueror Kyren Wilson would in the quarter-finals.
Kyren is always tempting nowadays at double-figure odds but he has a tricky opener. Jack Lisowski surprisingly leads their head-to-head 6-5 and reached the Scottish Open final last time.
Four former champions, with 11 Masters titles between them, comprise the final section. The most recent among them is much preferred at these odds. Allen looked likely to add more major titles when winning this in 2018 and won the recent Champion of Champions impressively under a very similar format.
Ronnie's game is under a cloud
In doing so, he beat Trump, Robertson and Ronnie O'Sullivan comprehensively. A superior effort to anything the others have done of late.
Whilst battling on and therefore impossible to write off, Ronnie looked a shadow of his best before Christmas. So too Ding in 80% of his matches. Higgins is more consistent but invariably comes up short at the highest level nowadays.
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