Well after a short break from our screens over the Christmas period,snooker returns with a vengeance this weekend,as all eyes focus on the "Ally Pally" in London for the start of the 2017 Masters and what a fascinating tournament it promises to be.
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Liang Wenbo
Ronnie was at his imperious best here last year as he swept aside Barry Hawkins 10-1 in the final to claim a sixth Masters title and although he has as of yet failed to reach that level again this season his overall application in his matches has been excellent.After a few near misses it is surely only a matter of time before hi wins again and where better than here in his own back yard.
Liang Wenbo has already had a season to remember,lifting the English Open title and its not beyond the realms of possibility that the unpredictable Chinese could cause an upset here,but I just don't see it happening
Score prediction; Ronnie to win this one 6-2
Neil Robertson v Ali Carter
This could be an interesting one. All recent form between the two points to a Robertson victory,but after a good start to the season,the Aussie went completely off the boil towards the end off 2016,so Ali may well smell blood here.That said though I still think Robertson might just edge it in a close encounter that may well go the distance.
Score prediction Robertson 6-5
Judd Trump v Marco Fu
Another intriguing encounter here with Trump trying to put aside an indifferent Masters record against the tours most recent winner in Scottish Open victor Marco Fu. Trump for his part has also tasted success this season,but after that impressive victory in European Masters,it has once again been disappointing that he hasn't kicked on to challenge for silverware more consistently.I still think Trump might edge this one though.
Score prediction Trump 6-3
John Higgins v Mark Allen
Leave aside Selby and without doubt the player of the season has been John Higgins. The legendary Scot has been at times back to his very best with superb victories in the China Championship & the Champion of Champions.He may even have claimed another UK had it not been for a deciding frame defeat by Selby .Included in those fine runs were a couple of victories over his opponent here and despite a poor Master record by comparison with everything else I expect Higgins to progress here .
Score prediction Higgins 6-4
Stuart Bingham v Joe Perry
A match here that will also be hard to call,but that is mostly down to the fact that both these players have largely struggled after decent starts to the season. I think though Binghma might have the edge here,provided Mrs Bingham hasn't gone into labour!!
Score prediction Bingham 6-2
Ding Junhui v Kyren Wilson
Potentially the tie of the round here with the Chinese no.1 taking on the brightest of the games rising stars.Ding delighted his home fans with victory over Selby in the Shanghai Masters in September,but when he was beaten 10-1 by the same opponent in the International Championship it seemed to rock his fragile confidence again and his form dipped thereafter.Wilson has also had a mixed time of it,at times looking the real deal and at others looking that he still has much to learn,just how he handles his debut here may well tell us where he is.
Another tough one to call,but I think experience may seal it for Ding
Score prediction Ding 6-4
Shaun Murphy v Barry Hawkins
Murphy has been in the headlines in recent weeks with his stated aim of becoming world no.1 and although this tournament does not carry any ranking points,victory here would maybe show that such a dream may still be achievable. His opponent here Hawkins will be hoping to go one better than last year,but a remarkable head to head record in Murphys favour here may well be the telling thing.
Score prediction Murphy 6-3
Mark Selby v Mark Williams
The big question this week is can Selby join the elite club who have held the games three biggest prizes at the same time. Selby was at his very best just last month in beating Ronnie to claim the UK title and a repeat of that form here would certainly see him go very close to achieving that.Ironically Selby's first round opponent here is the last man to hold all three majors at the same time, Mark William,The Welshman has shown flashes of his old best of late,but I doubt he has it still to repel Selby
Score prediction Selby 6-2