SNOOKER specialist George Weyham (@GWSnookerTips) previews the 2020 Masters from Alexandra Palace.
The Masters | 12th-19th January 2020 | BBC
As ever, The Masters brings in the new year for snooker and the sixth decade of this great event.
The second day of this year's Masters marks exactly 45 years to the day the inaugural tournament started in 1975. The final that year was won by three-time world champion John Spencer and it was decided on a re-spotted black.
Some 23 years later, the trick was repeated when Mark Williams, also now a three-time champion of the world, captured his first triple crown title with ‘that’ incredible nail-biter against his great friend and rival, Stephen Hendry. Williams and John Higgins are the only survivors this year from 1998. The other ‘Class of '92' member who was playing that year, but is missing this year, is Ronnie O’Sullivan.
This is only the second time in 27 years O’Sullivan will miss the Masters, his home event. No one in history has won this event more times (7) or made more finals (13).
O'Sullivan said this about his omission: “There’s no particular reason, it’s a fantastic tournament, I just didn’t want to play in it this year. The Masters is such a great tournament I think that spot should go to somebody that’s really dedicated to the game and is going to give 110%.”
As Barry Hearn has said many a time, snooker will carry on without Ronnie O’Sullivan. Carly Simon might of said ‘Nobody does it better’ but to the words of Freddie Mercury, ‘The Show Must Go On’.
Judd Trump was likely to be favourite even with O’Sullivan in the field so he’s now firmed up at the front of the market (13/5 best) where he’s looking to become only the fifth player after Cliff Thorburn, Hendry, Paul Hunter and O’Sullivan to win back-to-back Masters titles. It could be said it’s harder to do now than ever before.
I was struggling to find an angle in the outrights, until Monday afternoon when I saw SkyBet opened a special on Mark Selby winning the Masters and World Championship this year at 50/1. He’s not badly priced at 7/1 (for the first leg here) for all intents and purposes, but this price of 50/1 wets my appetite a lot more.
This is win only so I advise small stakes. Selby has four matches to win at Ally Pally then five at the Crucible in April/May. It’s not a feat he’s done before, but did nearly do so 10 years ago, losing in the World semi-final after collecting this title at the Wembley Arena.
Selby is trying to emulate four all-time greats, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Mark Williams who have won the Masters and Worlds in the same season. When he retires, Selby will be ranked alongside them all.
Selby has won two ranking titles this season already and has looked more like the player of old when he held the World number one spot for over four years. He’s a three-time winner of this and the World’s so has ‘bought the t-shirt’ to knowing how to win these triple crown titles.
Currently 10/1 in one place for Crucible title number four in May, he’ll be no bigger than 11/2 if he conquers the palace on 19th January. When Trump is 10/1 in the same market, it enhances the reason to why 50/1 on Selby should be right up people’s streets.
Elsewhere, I backed Ding Junhui for this during the UK Championship at a huge 33/1. It didn’t last very long. He’s now 12/1. I would have preferred Ding in the slightly weaker bottom half if truth be told but 12/1 is about right now. He’s aiming to become only the fifth player to do the back-to-back UK and Masters double in the same season.
Another way of looking at it, is trying the bigger prices and go each-way. With only three matches to make the final (1/2 odds 1, 2), four to win it, and all the players here being top class, a shock winner wouldn’t exactly be a big upset.
Stephen Maguire at 45/1 isn’t bad on the face of it as he’s having a good season (won over £300k in prize money so far) and played terrific at the UK Championship making the final. He’s too much of a nearly man for me even though he has clearly got it in the locker (never made a Masters final in 13 attempts).
Nearly a World finalist in May, David Gilbert is 40/1. That merits a bit of respect. He loves the big stage and will relish the one table set-up. In general, Gilbert has the temperament and ability to win one of these but he’s still yet to win a tournament and this is his Masters debut so it looks a tough ask on paper (only Hendry and Selby have won on debut).
If Jack Lisowski can rediscover his form from Glasgow, where he made the Scottish Open final before Christmas, he’s got a great chance here against Kyren Wilson in his opener, as well as in a very winnable quarter.
Armed with a brand new cue, it was the first event of the season where Lisowski really found his rhythm. And didn’t he just – his scoring was exceptional north of the border, notching 27 breaks over 50, six of them centuries. On the way to the final, he beat all types of styles.
At the top of the game, there aren't many bigger contrasts than Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and John Higgins, yet Lisowski disarmed them both. The 6-5 semi-final win over Mark Allen signified any doubts about Lisowski’s bottle when he hit a fantastic break of 95 in the decider after it looked like ‘The Pistol' would complete an unlikely comeback from 5-3 adrift.
Even in the final against Selby, he was well in it, until he lost patience in frame 12 going for a suicidal red after taking the upper hand in a safety duel. That cost him the chance to hit level at 6-6 and he didn’t recover.
Lisowski has to learn to bide his time and wait for his opportunities. A bit like his best friend on tour Trump has done, adapted into a top safety player. Once he clicks in that department, the sky is the limit and he will win title after title.
Lisowski partnered Wilson at the World Cup for England but acquaintances will be out the window in Wednesday afternoon's opener, and I really think Lisowski will come to the party and make it an eighth career victory over ‘The Warrior'.
A match-up with Williams or Bingham in the quarters doesn’t worry me in the slightest. Lisowski hasn’t got a losing head-to-head against either. Jack said at the Scottish Open he was playing ‘the best snooker of his career’ and his new weapon of a cue must have something to do with it. I think he can make a total mockery of that 4/1 to win the quarter – it’s without doubt, my best bet of the tournament.
If he wins the quarter, the question is then can he go further, and is he worth backing for the title or reaching the final? Yes, but I go back to him not winning any title yet as a professional. I still question his overall maturity to win a title, especially one of this magnitude.
But winning the quarter, no doubt. He’s made 14 career quarter-finals (in all competitions) but won through to the semi-final in just six. Thankfully, five have come in the past 18 months hence he’s nearly there but, for me, the safest option is a semi-final berth for Jackpot Jack.