Betfred To Sponsor The Masters
Betfred will be title sponsor of the Masters for the first time when snooker’s biggest invitation event takes place next week.
As an elite sport, the World Snooker Tour continues to stage events, providing entertainment and inspiration for hundreds of millions of fans around the globe.
Betfred has had an association with the World Championship since 2009 and has now signed up for the Masters on a one-year deal.
With a history dating back to 1975, the Masters is recognised as one of snooker’s most prestigious events and it is part of the Triple Crown, alongside the World Championship and the UK Championship.
It receives extensive live coverage on broadcasters across the world including BBC, Eurosport, CCTV and Matchroom.Live.
WST Chairman Barry Hearn OBE said: “We are thrilled to join forces with Betfred for the Masters, one of the greatest events in sport. The tournament brings together the absolute cream of the crop, and I believe that the field this year is the strongest it has ever been.
“We have worked with Fred Done and his fantastic team on the World Championship for many years so we know how much they love snooker and their dedication to our events.
“We are determined to keeping our tour going as the importance of live sport cannot be underestimated in these troubled times. The Betfred Masters will be eight days of thrilling entertainment.”
Stuart Bingham will be defending the title against the world’s top stars. The first round match schedule is:
Sunday January 10th
1pm Judd Trump v David Gilbert
7pm Kyren Wilson v Jack Lisowski
Monday January 11th
1pm Stuart Bingham v Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
7pm Shaun Murphy v Mark Williams
Tuesday January 12th
1pm Neil Robertson v Yan Bingtao
7pm Mark Selby v Stephen Maguire
Wednesday January 13th
1pm Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui
7pm John Higgins v Mark Allen
Yan Primed For Masters Debut
China’s Yan Bingtao will step out for his Masters debut next week, having broken into the world’s top 16 for the first time last year.
World number 11 Yan won his maiden ranking title at the 2019 Riga Masters and has since shown remarkable consistency levels to seal his place the top 16 of the rankings, which saw him qualify automatically for last year’s Betfred World Championship.
The 20-year-old faces a baptism of fire at snooker’s most prestigious invitational event, going head to head with current UK Champion Neil Robertson.
We caught up with Yan to find out how he is feeling ahead of next week…
Yan, how excited are you to be competing at the Masters for the first time in your career?
“I’m extremely excited. I’ve grown up watching the best players compete at the Masters and I never thought I would be one of them. To be in the event is a great achievement in itself and I’m looking forward to playing.”
You face world number three Neil Robertson in the opening round. How much are you looking forward to facing such an illustrious opponent?
“I’m quite relaxed about the match. I’ve been playing for many years as a professional now and have played against most of the top 16 before. As a result it isn’t going to be a shock facing these top players, I’m used to it. If I play with a good attitude and produce my best form, then I know I can beat anyone.”
How difficult has it been over the last year not being able to go back to China and having to stay in the UK due to the coronavirus situation?
“This is the longest time I have ever been in the UK for. Life isn’t normal for anybody at the moment and I am no different. However, I feel like Sheffield and the UK is my second home now and I’ve really settled into living here.”
Having now qualified for the Masters is the next goal to become a permanent fixture in the top 16 and make sure you are regularly in these events for years to come?
“Absolutely, I am working very hard to make sure I am in the top 16 going forward. I’m not disappointed that the Masters isn’t at Alexandra Palace this year, I think we are just lucky to be playing snooker. I’m going to try and make sure I am playing in the Masters for years to come and hopefully I can play at Alexandra Palace next time.”
It’s good that WST now regularly interview the Chinese players and Yan is showing great maturity. He definitely has the right attitude and I hope that the pundits will eventually warm to him.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN is backing John Higgins to burst the Judd Trump, Neil Robertson and Mark Selby bubble and end his three years of ranking event hurt.
The Wizard of Wishaw last scooped silverware at the 2018 Welsh Open and has endured a turbulent couple of seasons on the hectic snooker circuit.
The four-time world champion is a 30-time ranking event winner but O’Sullivan, a six-time Crucible king, holds the record with a thrilling 37 tournament titles since 1993.
O’Sullivan admits it won’t be easy for the Scot but reckons he, Higgins and three-time world champion Mark Williams – all 45 – still have the talent to win trophies once again.
“I think definitely, [Mark] and John Higgins can still win titles,” said O’Sullivan ahead of Higgins’ Masters clash against Mark Allen on Wednesday.
“But it is going to be really hard. The top three are there and are probably going to win 60 or 70 per cent of the tournaments they play in, that we all play in.
“So it only leaves those other opportunities. And you’ve got Mark Allen, Ding Junhui, Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, a lot of players, and they’re going to win tournaments as well.
“If you’re an exceptional player you can probably do what [John] Higgins and [Mark] Williams have done, which is compete, but it’s still downhill for them.
“They’re still not the players that they were, yet they were so good that even their B or C game is allowing them to compete and allowing them to have the odd good tournament.
“But to do it week in, week out, they just don’t have the physical powers of recovery – and myself included – to be able to be able to do it week in, week out and mentally be strong enough to hold it together match after match.”
Higgins will face Champion of Champions Allen in the first round of the Masters and is bidding for a third tournament title – and a first in 15 years.
The Scot reigned supreme at Wembley in 1999 and 2006 but is yet to complete a treble despite reaching three semi-finals since 2009.
This year’s event was due to be held in front of fans at Alexandra Palace but a surge in coronavirus cases means the tournament will now be held behind closed doors in Milton Keynes.
The Covid-secure Marshall Arena has been the venue for all of this season’s tournaments as Higgins, also a three-time UK champion, has only progressed past the fourth round on a single occasion.
He reached the semi-finals of the English Open in October but slumped to premature second round defeats at the recent Scottish Open and World Grand Prix.
Despite soaring to Crucible glory last summer, O’Sullivan is also yet to claim silverware this season as Trump, Robertson and Selby have scooped a total of six ranking event titles between them.
The Rocket reckons Higgins’ power of recovery aren’t what they used to be and admits once a player hits their mid-40s, they enter terminal decline.
“At 37, I felt as good as I’d ever done and at 38, even at 40, I felt great. [Also at] 41 or 42, but I’ve got to be honest, the last 18 months I just can’t recover physically from one tournament to the next,” added seven-time Masters champion O’Sullivan, who will face three-time UK champion Ding Junhui on Wednesday.
“I just don’t and I just get mentally tired – and I’m quite strong mentally. You can say you can still do it, but the body doesn’t allow you to.
“It used to be 33 or 34 for a snooker player but I think now it’s maybe early 40s [the end of your peak].
“After that, you’re definitely on a decline. I don’t care who you are, once you hit 42 or 43 there’s only one way for you, and that’s down.”
Those last sentences by Ronnie are definitely not very encouraging, but unfortunately, what he says is probably true. The Masters may actually be the best opportunity for the class of 92: a 16 men elite tournament, only four matches, and coming shortly after a break.