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 lead-up we’ll take a look at the contenders in the 2021 draw.
Today, let’s review the Masters seeds ranked from positions five to eight.
8. Shaun Murphy (England)
Shaun Murphy heads to the Masters struggling for form, but this is a tournament in which he has excelled in the past.
A champion in 2015 when he completed the Triple Crown set, Murphy also reached the final three years earlier and boasts another trio of semi-final appearances.
The “Magician” began this campaign with a run to the last four of the European Masters but has been absent from the latter stages since.
Against Mark Williams in the first round, Murphy faces one of the ten competitors in this year’s line-up who understands what it takes to land the Paul Hunter Trophy.
The interesting thing about the top quarter of the draw, which also features reigning champion Stuart Bingham and debutant Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, is that none of the quartet is playing particularly well this term.
There’s a huge opportunity then for one of them to seal a semi-final spot, which could subsequently act as a launchpad to a greater challenge come the second Sunday.
Murphy’s form has frequently been temperamental in the past, so he’ll be hoping that 2021 marks the beginning of a resurgence in his challenge of the top players.
7. John Higgins (Scotland)
For whatever reason, the Masters has not been a favourite of Higgins down through the years.
The “Wizard of Wishaw” has triumphed on two occasions, which is nothing to be sniffed at, but perhaps that’s not the return expected from a contender of his class.
Higgins last tasted glory 15 years ago in a memorable 10-9 defeat of Ronnie O’Sullivan when the tournament was last staged at the Wembley Conference Centre.
Since then, the 45 year-old has reached three semi-finals in the midst of plenty of early exits.
By competing this year, Higgins will make it an incredible 27th consecutive Masters appearance – a testament to his longevity and consistency since he first joined the top 16 ranks almost three decades ago.
The four-time world champion clashes with Mark Allen in the last 16 on this occasion, an opponent he has played and lost to four times in the Masters since 2010.
6. Kyren Wilson (England)
Perhaps a dark horse for glory this month, Wilson is set to make his fifth appearance in the Masters.
Three years ago, the Kettering cueist embarked on a run to the final before being denied a maiden title by Allen in London.
So far this campaign, the 29 year-old has been the epitome of consistency with his Championship League victory the highlight among six additional quarter-final appearances in tournaments.
Wilson faces Jack Lisowski in what is a repeat of a first-round tie from twelve months ago, when the former prevailed with a comfortable 6-2 scoreline.
In the last eight, the World Championship runner-up could possibly then face world number one Judd Trump.
Wilson and Trump have established a healthy rivalry over the last couple of years, with several key encounters going both ways.
Lisowski and Trump’s challenger Gilbert will have their say first, of course, but that potential affair may be a key one in the destiny of this year’s champion.
5. Mark Selby (England)
Undoubtedly one of the favourites among the Masters seeds for glory this year, Mark Selby is one of only two players in the field who has won the event more than twice.
Triumphs for the “Jester” came on his debut in 2008, two years later in 2010, and a completion of the hat-trick in 2013.
In fact, Selby contested five finals in seven years between 2008 and 2014, making him an undoubted Masters specialist.
The 37 year-old hasn’t been back in the semi-finals since then, but he is probably in his best position to do so in quite a while.
Selby has been in terrific form this season overall, winning both the European Masters and the Scottish Open crowns in addition to featuring at the business end of several other events.
The former world number one is approaching the kind of form that saw him dominate the rankings for a few campaigns in the middle of the last decade.
In the first round, Selby takes on Stephen Maguire, who he has beaten three times in three prior Masters fixtures.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the Masters seeds ranked from 1 to 4.
Featured photo credit: WST