Can Ronnie O’Sullivan be beaten?
That’s the question on everybody’s lips after his scintillating 6-0 drubbing of Marco Fu in the first round of the Masters on Tuesday.
O’Sullivan, a winner of the UK Championship before Christmas along with a couple of other ranking events at the tail end of the year, was a huge favourite before the jostles at the Alexandra Palace even began.
However, the seven-time champion appeared practically unbeatable as he thoroughly dismantled any meagre challenge from his opponent in a whitewash thrashing that included a hat-trick of century breaks and four further runs above 50.
Fu didn’t do all that much wrong but was put under immense pressure from the outset and managed just a paltry 35 points in total.
O’Sullivan represented his usual enigmatic self afterwards when he suggested that he felt dizzy due to a low magnesium count but his unusual, yet predictably riveting, ramblings are simply par for the course for the 42 year-old.
The truth is, whether he’ll admit it or not, he’s in arguably the best form of his entire career and it’s going to either take something very special from an opposing rival to deny him a record 19th Triple Crown title or a complete personal meltdown that seems unlikely, especially in London where he thrives under the conditions each year.
The “Rocket” hasn’t lost a match in the tournament since 2015 and it’s a wonder who could possibly stop him, with Mark Allen the next in line to face his wrath in the quarter-finals.
Meanwhile, Kyren Wilson earned his maiden Masters victory on his second appearance at the Ally Pally with a hard-fought and entertaining 6-4 success against Barry Hawkins.
The pair traded four centuries in an encounter that ebbed one way and then the other before Wilson pulled away from 4-4, aided by an outrageous fluke, to claim the final two frames for a notable career triumph.
The 26 year-old is widely considered as a player who could eventually soar into the highest echelons of the sport and the 2015 Shanghai Masters champion has shown glimpses of his pedigree during this campaign already with final appearances in both the World and English Opens.
Wilson would have perhaps been expecting to face world number one Mark Selby in the last eight but, instead, it’s two-time former champion Mark Williams, resulting in what appears to be a close looking affair on paper.
Prior to that, the last 16 concludes on Wednesday with the remaining two matches from the opening hurdle providing all-English and all-Scottish battles.
With victories in the Champion of Champions and Gibraltar Open, along with runners-up finishes in three other ranking events, Shaun Murphy was one of the most prolific players in 2017 and will be hoping to prolong that standard into the new year when he takes on Ali Carter.
That said, the latter boasts a superior head-to-head record against Murphy and was perhaps buoyed by a decent run in last week’s Championship League that saw the “Captain” land victory in Group 4 – funnily enough, at the expense of Murphy.
The difference between that competition, which is played behind closed doors in Coventry, and the conditions in the Masters performing in front of thousands is obvious, but Carter can rise to the occasion as strongly as most so it ought to be a close game at least.
Finally, John Higgins takes on close pal and Masters debutant Anthony McGill in a repeat of their Indian Open final from last summer.
Higgins prevailed in that showdown and again in the Champion of Champions in November to orchestrate a narrow 4-3 advantage from their previous bouts against one another.
How McGill, who famously reached the quarter-finals of the World Championship on his debut in 2015, handles the pressure of playing in this prestigious event for the first time is the million dollar question.
Perhaps in the 26 year-old’s favour is the fact that Higgins, despite being a two-time champion, actually possesses a miserable enough Masters record with only a handful of match victories since he last lifted the trophy in 2006.
The disparity in experience could prove vital, though, especially amid the raucous atmosphere that is uniquely generated at the Ally Pally during each session – something McGill maybe won’t be quite accustomed to.
Live coverage continues on the BBC and Eurosport.
Click here to view the draw. (Times: CET)