The non-ranking event gets under way on Sunday in Milton Keynes.
With the New Year reeled in, the Masters snooker seeds will be making the countdown to the first major event of 2021.
Usually contested for in the English capital city of London, this year’s edition will take the unprecedented step of instead being staged behind closed doors in Milton Keynes as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
As things stand, the action is set to begin on Sunday despite the introduction of the latest lockdown across the UK, and in the coming days we’ll take a look at the contenders in the 2021 draw.
16. Thepchaiya Un-Nooh (Thailand)
One of two players in line to mark his debut in the competition this year, Un-Nooh made a timely first leap into the top 16 in the world rankings just a couple of months ago.
The 35 year-old will become the first player from Thailand to feature in the Masters since former finalist James Wattana made his last appearance in 1999.
Un-Nooh, the 2019 Snooker Shoot Out winner, faces reigning champion Stuart Bingham in the opening round of the competition.
Known as one of the fastest and most attacking cueists on the circuit, Un-Nooh reached the final of last season’s World Open and is also a former six reds world champion.
He announced himself as a major talent by triumphing in the 2008 IBSF World Amateur Championship, but it is only in recent years that he has developed a level of consistency in his game.
Un-Nooh is one of the seeds in the top half of the Masters draw, which features five former world champions.
15. Jack Lisowski (England)
Jack Lisowski managed to hold onto his membership in the top 16 with a late rally of form towards the end of 2020.
The Englishman reached the quarter-finals of the lucrative UK Championship before a run to the final of the Scottish Open – albeit the latter result came after the Masters seeds were confirmed.
Lisowski will be hoping to perform a lot better compared to his prior showings in the Masters, which have been fairly dismal.
The four-time ranking event runner-up lost 6-1 to Ding Junhui on his debut before a marginally better 6-2 defeat against Kyren Wilson twelve months ago.
As luck would have it, Lisowski will have a second crack at Wilson after being drawn against the Kettering cueist in the first round again.
With a lot of ranking points to defend later this year there is no guarantee that Lisowski will be among the Masters participants in 2022, so he’ll certainly be hoping to make an improved impression.
14. Mark Williams (Wales)
Unlike the previous couple of Masters seeds, Mark Williams has an enormous amount of experience in the tournament and will be making his 23rd appearance overall since his first back in 1995.
In fact, the Welshman has only failed to feature on four occasions since then, emerging as the champion in both 1998 and 2003.
The former victory stands as one of the most dramatic in Masters history, with Williams fighting back from 9-6 behind to deny Stephen Hendry in the final frame on a re-spotted black.
Five years later, Williams again overcame Hendry to lift the title during a season in which he also landed the top prizes in the UK and World Championships.
In 2021, the 45 year-old faces Shaun Murphy in the last 16, a round in which he has only once successfully negotiated on his last five appearances.
Williams has slid down the rankings since losing the points attributed to his 2018 World Championship glory, and there may not be many more opportunities for him to contest for the Masters crown.
13. David Gilbert (England)
David Gilbert returns to the Masters for a second successive season after making his maiden bow last year at the Alexandra Palace.
Gilbert produced clinical performances to beat Mark Allen and Stephen Maguire before finally letting the nerves get the better of him in a disappointing 6-2 reverse against eventual champion Bingham in the last four.
The 39 year-old will likely have to be at his best if he’s to repeat that kind of run in 2021 after being paired with world number one Judd Trump in the opening round.
Gilbert’s best has rarely been evident in the last year or so, however, and the “Angry Farmer” hasn’t been at the business end of any competition in the twelve months since his Masters debut.
Somewhat like Lisowski, Gilbert is known for his inability to get over the winning line in finals, so this event would be a pretty good place to acquire a first piece of professional silverware.