We’ve been looking forward to the calendar’s most prestigious invitational event and there’s just a day left before the 2020 edition commences in London.
Sixteen of the world’s best players will compete at the Alexandra Palace for the second Triple Crown title of the campaign.
A tournament that is usually restricted to only the elite top 16 in the rankings, 17th ranked Ali Carter is in the Masters this year following the withdrawal of Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The record seven-time champion’s absence will surely be felt as he remains the game’s biggest star – particularly in an event that is hosted practically on his doorstep.
However, there is no shortage of star attraction elsewhere, led by reigning champion and world number one Judd Trump.
Trump launched a stellar 2019 in which he also claimed a maiden world title with an annihilation of O’Sullivan in the Masters final twelve months ago.
The 30 year-old is one of eight competitors – that’s half of the line-up – who understands what it takes to triumph in this event.
Indeed, Trump’s first round opponent is a fellow former champion with the Englishman in action against 2015 winner Shaun Murphy.
The clash is a repeat of their International Championship showdown for glory from earlier this term, which Trump easily emerged victorious in.
Despite that, the latter will know that Murphy represents a difficult opening hurdle to overcome.
A defeat of the China Championship winner could set up an intriguing clash against Ding Junhui in the quarter-finals.
Between them, Trump and Ding bagged all three Triple Crown trophies last year and both players will be hoping to extend their winning habits into the new decade.
UK champion Ding’s initial obstacle to overcome is Joe Perry, a match that opens the 2020 Masters on Sunday afternoon.
Perry has a far inferior head-to-head record against Ding, but notably did beat the Chinese number one 6-1 en route to reaching the Masters final in 2017.
The top half also features Mark Selby and John Higgins, who have five Masters triumphs between them.
Selby faces Carter while Higgins, whose last success occurred 14 years ago, meets Barry Hawkins in the last 16.
Somewhat incredibly, Selby and Carter haven’t crossed paths since the 2014 World Championship and you have to go back to 2010 for the last time Carter got one over on his fellow Englishman.
Higgins will likely begin his affair as the favourite but Hawkins, the 2016 finalist, did beat the Scot for only the third time in his career at the Shanghai Masters in September.
Two players have successfully defended their maiden Masters title 👑
Can you name them? 💭
— World Snooker Tour (@WeAreWST) January 10, 2020
Meanwhile, the bottom half of the draw has arguably an even more enjoyably appearance to it.
Four extremely even looking ties on paper could throw up any number of outcomes.
Neil Robertson and Stephen Maguire battle in this event for a fourth time, with all three previous meetings having been won by the Scot.
Maguire will be hoping to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on UK Championship glory to Ding in December.
Robertson, of course, is the man who knows how to win this event following his triumph when the tournament moved to the Ally Pally in 2012.
The winner of that tie will encounter either Mark Allen or David Gilbert – two players who are enjoying relatively strong seasons without any silverware to show for it.
Allen has run into a stumbling block of losing semi-finals while Gilbert suffered defeat in a ranking event final for the fourth time when he was thrashed by Mark Selby in the English Open title decider in October.
Elsewhere, two-time champion Mark Williams faces Stuart Bingham while the two youngest players in the draw, Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski, also go head-to-head against one another.
Williams would have you believe that he’s almost done with the sport but we’ve been here before with the Welshman and those suggestions are worth taking with a grain of salt.
The 44 year-old hasn’t won the Masters since 2003 and would undeniably love to etch his name onto the Paul Hunter Trophy.
Bingham actually boasts the superior record from their previous duels so this could be a match nailed on to go the distance.
The winner will face either Lisowski or Wilson, with the former enjoying a 6-3 advantage from their previous ties.
Kettering cueist Wilson reached the final two years ago but hasn’t been playing well throughout the 2019/20 season so far.
Eight exciting encounters to look forward to then as the first round of the Masters gets going over the coming days.
In theory, any one of the protagonists are good enough on any given day to beat one of the others in the field.
Yet in reality, perhaps only four or five possess the necessary concoction of current form, temperament, and the winner’s edge required to land the £250,000 top prize next Sunday.
Trump is the obvious favourite and, after a minor blip in which he lost to Nigel Bond in York last month, the best player in the world will be looking to reassert himself as the most recent dominant force.
Judd Trump (1) vs Shaun Murphy
Joe Perry vs Ding Junhui (8)
Mark Selby (5) vs Ali Carter
Barry Hawkins vs John Higgins (4)
Neil Robertson (3) vs Stephen Maguire
David Gilbert vs Mark Allen (6)
Kyren Wilson (7) vs Jack Lisowski
Stuart Bingham vs Mark Williams (2)