There are no easy matches at The Masters, these are the 16 best players in the world competing against each other. Still, looking at Ronnie’s route, he’s got a particularly difficult draw. Now, if he can play in Alexandra Palace the way he played in Crondon Park, he will take some stopping.
So here it is … my preview before I head to London. I will be at Alexandra Palace taking pictures from day 1 to finish.
Ronnie O’Sullivan v Mark Williams
Ronnie has an excellent record against Mark Williams, but Mark is on form and he did beat Ronnie, in a decider, in the International Championship last season. So this is no walk in the park by any means. Mark is an excellent potter and knows how to find his way around a messy table. On the other hand, he isn’t quite as consistent as he was in his prime and isn’t always scoring as heavily as needed to secure frames in one visit. Ronnie is the better breakbuilder and, in Crondon Park at least, proved superior in the safety department, but his long potting isn’t as reliable as he probably wants it to be. All in all though I’d expect Ronnie to be the winner of this match.
Should Ronnie beat “Willo”, I expect him to face Mark Selby at this stage. Mark Selby is facing Ricky Walden in the last 16, and Ricky is really struggling at the moment, so I would be surprised if he could stop Mark.
Mark Selby is a player that Ronnie doesn’t particularly like to play. He prefers opponents playing a more open game. Mark of course has beaten him in high profile matches, the 2014 World Final being the prime example. After that defeat, Ronnie admitted that he had lacked the patience and resilience he would have needed to beat Mark in that match. Mark tends to get under Ronnie’s skin. But it doesn’t always work. Ronnie has also beaten him in high profile matches, even when he had to battle hard and was behind in the scores. It was the case notably in the UK Championship semi finals in 2007, and in the Masters final in 2009.
They haven’t played many high profile matches in recent years. In fact only two, both in 2014, the World Championship 2014 Final mentioned above and the Masters 2014 Final which Ronnie won easily.
So it will be very much “on the day”. I can’t predict a winner for this one.
If Ronnie gets this far I expect him to play John Higgins. Stuart Bingham, Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo are the other players in Higgins quarter of the draw. Stuart and Ding have been struggling this season and Liang is playing in the Masters for the first time. On form and experience, I believe that John Higgins is the one who will emerge from that field.
John has a good record against Ronnie. I feel that he has a kind of mental hold over him for some reason. They know each other inside out. They have played each other professionally a whooping 58 times. There was a time around 2009/2010 where John clearly had the upper hand, but Ronnie won their last encounters and beat him soundly in the Welsh Open 2014.
This match can only be close, but I still do expect Ronnie to win it. John has won three events last year, he’s in good form, but in the UK Championship 2015, for what I saw, he was liable to make some unexpected mistake in most frames and he lost to Ian Burns in the last 64 of the German Masters qualifiers last December (*); He was terrible in Crondon Park early this week and his record in the Masters isn’t great. If Ronnie can punish John’s mistakes and score heavily , he should come out the winner.
Should Ronnie reach this stage, I expect him to face Judd Trump or Shaun Murphy. Both of them play an open game, both of them can win frames in one quick visit and win 3 or 4 of them on the bounce. So does Ronnie. I won’t make a prediction here. If we get this far … let’s just enjoy the battle.
But you will ask me, why not Neil Robertson? Well, of course, Neil won the Champion of Champions and the UK Championship in 2015 and he looked unstoppable. But since, he has lost – to an amateur – in the first round of the German Masters qualifiers and he has spent the holidays period in Norway with his family. He is set to face Judd Trump in the last 8 and Judd has just won the Championship League Group 2 yesterday….