So the Betfair Masters is upon us at the Alexandra Palace.
There’s no hiding place in this tournament: just one table and the top 16 players in the world.
Let’s take a look at today’s matches…
NEIL ROBERTSON v DING JUNHUI
A brutal opener, this, for both players featuring as it does the last two winners of the title.
Ding is suffering for his inconsistency by failing to secure a top eight place and thus facing one of the top eight in the first round. But this draw does Robertson no favours either because, on song, Ding is as good as anyone.
Defending champions are always under pressure on the opening day. Robertson was when he lost 10-8 to Judd Trump in the first round of the 2011 World Championship. The defending champion has lost on the first afternoon of the Masters for the last two years.
Robertson, though, is a first rate match player, calmness personified when the pressure comes on. Even so, any weaknesses in his game will surely be pounced on. Ding is a hard player to predict but after first round defeats in all of the big three tournaments in 2012 it’s about time he came good again.
PREDICTION: Ding 6-4
MARK ALLEN v MARK DAVIS
Davis is making his second appearance in the Masters, ten years after his first. He has enjoyed a terrific couple of years in which he has beaten top players and produced the goods on television.
Allen is a feisty talent from Northern Ireland who reached the Masters semi-finals two years ago. His game is formidable when he’s on song and after a first round exit at the UK Championship he’ll be looking to make amends here.
I think it’s only a matter of time before he wins one of the big three and wouldn’t be surprised if it was this week.
PREDICTION: Allen 6-3