Already thinking about the Masters

It’s only the start of the season, but in less than three months the 2021 Masters should be played in Alexandra Palace. There are only three more ranking events to be completed until the line-up is known.

Matt Huart has been looking at the “Race to the Masters”

Race to the Masters 2021: Three to Go

Already with just two events completed during this most unusual of snooker seasons, the qualification race for the 2021 Masters is already approaching a critical stage with just three events to be completed before the all-important seeding cut-off to determine the 16-player field.

Snooker’s most prestigious invitational event is scheduled to return to London’s Alexandra Palace from 10-17 January 2021 and will feature the world’s top 16 ranked players following December’s UK Championship. This period therefore includes all prize money earned at ranking events from the 2018 Scottish Open up to and including the 2020 UK Championship.

With just the final stages of the Championship League, the Northern Ireland Open and the UK Championship still to be completed by that point, already we can see who is safe and who has work to do if they are to qualify for the tournament.

The Top Two

While Judd Trump might be a runaway number one at the top of the world ranking list, the 2019 Masters champion is guaranteed to be seeded third at this year’s tournament.

This is because as is customary, defending champion Stuart Bingham will head the draw as top seed, while reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will be seeded second thanks to his Crucible triumph.

Safe Zone

Below the top two, with a cushion of over £150,000 to the closest players outside of the 16 incumbents, everyone as far down as 11th placed Ding Junhui(£374,250) looks to be safe for qualification, while both potential debutant Yan Bingtao (£293,000) and David Gilbert (£289,500) are both also well-placed.

Two-time champion Mark Williams (£259,750) is currently more vulnerable with £40,000 separating the Welshman and 17th position, but remains in control of his own destiny at this stage.

Danger Zone

Below him however and the battle is wide-open with just barely £34,000 separating eight places from 15-22 positions and significant prize money still to be won at the UK Championship in particular.

Currently just inside of the cut are Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (£224,000) and Gary Wilson (£221,000), with the pair both looking to qualify for the tournament for the first time this year.

Just £1,250 behind Wilson however is 17th placed Jack Lisowski (£219,750), with recent Crucible semi-finalist Anthony McGill (£209,500) also within striking distance behind.

Further back are the likes of Graeme Dott (£194,250), Ali Carter (£193,500), Joe Perry (£193,000) and Barry Hawkins (£189,750) who can also not be discounted.

The next counting event will be the Championship League (Winner’s Group) from 26-30 October which you can follow via WST.

Article by Matt Huart (@ProSnookerBlog).

Should Ronnie play in the Masters this season, he would find himself in the same half as Judd Trump. But will he play? Desmond Kane thinks that he probably will.

ENGLISH OPEN SNOOKER: IN THE PINK – WHY RONNIE O’SULLIVAN IS LIKELY TO BE NAILED ON FOR MASTERS

Ronnie O’Sullivan is adamant he will not play the Masters at Alexandra Palace in January, but history suggests it will not be a huge surprise to see him appear at snooker’s most prestigious event in the New Year, writes Desmond Kane.

BY DESMOND KANE

It would be fair to say Ronnie O’Sullivan nailed it during his first match at the English Open, his first competitive win of the 2020/21 season. The six-times world champion recovered from trailing 2-0 against Brian Ochoiski to complete a 4-2 win on Monday evening, rolling in knocks of 51, 113, 55 and 52 after his French opponent had pieced together a run of 105 in the second frame.

In true unpredictable fashion, he did so with his nails painted pink for a breast cancer charity, a varnished performance that ended up more Harvey Nics than Harvey Chandler. A win-win situation for himself and publicity for the charity Future Dreams. Don’t be surprised to see him don the mascara quite soon.

“Maybe more guys will show some bottle and put pink varnish on! I had it done in a nail shop. I have to thank my fiancé, too. I really like it,” he told Eurosport after his victory.

He might see it as putting lipstick on a pig, but one suspects O’Sullivan prefers the ritual trudge to test for Covid-19 behind closed doors in Milton Keynes than be confronted by the K2 Leisure Centre in Crawley, a much-maligned venue for the English Open in pre-pandemic times, which he felt had a whiff of urine commenting that “every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life”.

In the current climate, he is no longer hindered by the low-level fame of fans shouting ‘C’mon Ronnie’ during matches or people seeking him out for selfies. Which just leaves the snooker and a manicure to attend to. Another win-win situation for the Rocket man.

As is standard for any O’Sullivan interview, a marvellous sporting stream of consciousness, what he is saying does not quite chime with the reality. Or which direction his future plans might take the next day, the next month or the next year. Hardened tour professionals Ali Carter, Neil Robertson and Alan McManus all felt O’Sullivan was ideally positioned to win a sixth World Championship in August, mainly due to his inimitable ability and an absence of fans in or around the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. They were proved visionaries as he fairly careered to a victory at an event that had started to look beyond him over the previous six years.

Suddenly Stephen Hendry’s record of seven world titles at the venue is back on the table when all had looked lost after he somehow managed to lose 10-8 to amateur James Cahill in the first round in 2019 in which the pressure valve seemed to suffer a blow out.

Which makes you wonder what course of action he will take over this campaign with the snooker season marooned behind closed doors in Milton Keynes for the foreseeable future and every event apart from the UK Championship in York in December due to bed down in Buckinghamshire.

He opted against the Masters last January due to the aggravation that the baying, sometimes boozed up, crowd brings to the Alexandra Palace, but there is a fair chance that the Barbican Centre in York and the Alexandra Palace will both provide a sobering experience, ghostly backdrops unless there is a dramatic transformation in the ongoing joust with the pandemic.

“I won’t play a lot of the events where the circus is around, unless I like the town,” said O’Sullivan prior to the English Open. “So York, I have to accept the circus there because I really love York and it’s a real good holiday for me. London, the Masters is a no-no for me, if I never played in that again I wouldn’t be disappointed.

“World Championships is a bit like that, unless Covid is still lingering around next year then I’d quite look forward to the peace and quiet in Sheffield that I had this year. I’m a lot happier when I do what I want to do and set my own rules.”

If the Masters goes ahead at the Ally Pally, it is likely to be in the same circumstances as the World Championship with no fans or no hassle which would beg the question: why would O’Sullivan not want a slice of that action?

A few years ago in Northern Ireland, O’Sullivan suggested he might miss the 2018 World Championship to film a TV series, but in the end he continued his sequence of never missing an appearance at the Crucible since 1993.

It is hardly a huge excursion to make it from Essex back to old London town for an event that still plays a huge role in his psyche having lifted the Masters a record seven times since becoming the youngest player to win the elite event at the age of 19 in 1995.

During his sabbatical from the sport in 2012/13, he even washed up at the Masters to watch a turgid semi-final between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott when there was no need for him to be anywhere near the tournament.

“I feel more sorry for Ronnie missing than anyone else because I feel it is a huge career mistake for him,” said the World Snooker Tour chairman Barry Hearn earlier this year. Don’t expect him to make a similar call this time.

Expect to see him compete at Alexandra Palace. With or without the gloss.

Desmond Kane

I’m not so sure. Anything is possible. We shall see.

What I wonder is how it will feel to the players in Alexandra Palace if there are no spectators. The “arena” is in fact created by arranging mobile bleachers around the table, in the middle of a huge room, a bit similar to the one you see at the darts world championship. These rooms have very high ceilings, they are difficult to heat and it’s usually very cold in London in January. Without a crowd it will be even more difficult. And the atmosphere will be probably be eerie in the middle of this huge empty space. Already now players have suffered from the cold in Milton Keynes. Mark Selby said that he didn’t “feel” his fingers properly. This might be a huge problem in Alexandra Palace as well , if the usual setup is used. There might be a better alternative in using the old theatre, provided that the renovation works – in progress – can be completed in time.

alexandra-palace_theatre

It’s still big, but it’s a more intimate place, and one where it would probably be easier to create some sort of atmosphere. Whether the heating issue would be easier to solve, I’m not sure.