The 2022 Masters gets under way on Sunday in London, with the prestigious invitational tournament back in its usual early-January slot on the snooker schedule.
Many regard the event as second in stature only to the World Championship itself, and it’s easy to understand why given the pedigree of player that features in the lineup each season.
This year’s edition will be particularly special as it returns to the Alexandra Palace in front of a packed arena, having twelve months ago been forced behind closed doors at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.
2022 Masters Draw
Yan Bingtao (1) vs Mark Williams (9)
John Higgins (8) vs Zhao Xintong (10)
Yan Bingtao is the reigning champion after announcing himself as a marquee name in last year’s tournament with an outstanding run that included a hat-trick of 6-5 victories before a 10-8 defeat of John Higgins in the final.
The young Chinese competitor has had a solid if unspectacular season so far with two semi-final and two quarter-final appearances to his name.
It will be interesting to see how he handles the occasion, and not to take anything away from his achievement in 2021, it must surely be a small gripe that he wasn’t able to accomplish the feat in front of fans.
Yan faces two-time former champion Mark Williams in the first round, a formidable opponent who he has an inferior head-to-head record against – including an agonising defeat in the final of the Northern Ireland Open in 2017.
Higgins, as luck would have it, is in the same bracket of the draw so an intriguing repeat of last year’s title decider could be on the cards.
However, the Scot must first overcome another up-and-coming superstar from China in the form of Zhao Xintong, who counted Higgins among his victims as he stormed to a remarkable triumph in the UK Championship shortly before Christmas.
The only debutant in the field this year, Zhao warmed himself up nicely by emerging victoriously from Group 3 of the Championship League a few days ago.
The 24 year-old may never have experienced an atmosphere like the one in the English capital city, so his handling of that could be an indicator as to how he might fare in his attempt to land back-to-back Triple Crown victories.
Neil Robertson (5) vs Anthony McGill (16)
Ronnie O’Sullivan (4) vs Jack Lisowski (14)
There’s already excitement ahead of a potential quarter-final clash between Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson, which would mark an immediate rematch following their dramatic World Grand Prix final that rounded off 2021.
They will first have to negotiate potentially tricky opening encounters, though, with Jack Lisowski and Anthony McGill more than capable of conjuring upsets.
Lisowski, who missed last year’s event due to a positive COVID-19 test, may count himself a touch fortunate to be in this field as he’s currently ranked outside the world’s top 16 in the official rankings.
The somewhat controversial system that’s in place means that the cut-off point is after the UK Championship, so even though Luca Brecel leapfrogged Lisowski after his success in the Scottish Open, there’s no place for the Belgian this year.
Given Robertson’s pedigree, it’s perhaps a little surprising that he’s only won the Masters once during his career and the Australian will want to avoid a repeat of the last two years in which he’s been dumped out at the first hurdle.
O’Sullivan, by contrast, has seven Masters crowns to his name and has only lost in his first fixture four times since making his debut all the way back in 1994.
The Rocket usually uses the partisan crowd to good effect in this tournament, and the 46 year-old’s confidence should be high after adding a 38th ranking title to his stellar CV in December.
O’Sullivan is 3/10 to beat Lisowski, a player he’s never lost to, and you can check on Parimatch for more match odds for the remainder of the tournament.
Judd Trump (3) vs Mark Allen (12)
Kyren Wilson (6) vs Stuart Bingham (15)
Like Lisowski, Judd Trump missed this event twelve months ago as a result of a positive test, and the world number two’s first outing back in the Masters couldn’t be much more difficult.
Indeed, there are many engrossing Masters ties to look forward to but Trump versus Allen probably stands out as the pick of the entire bunch from the 2022 schedule.
The winners from 2018 and 2019 have been involved in many absorbing battles with one another down through the years, and the Northern Irishman actually boasts the superior head-to-head record overall.
Trump has come in for some criticism – unfairly in many ways – for his displays in the Triple Crown events so he’ll be motivated to set matters straight, and a victory over a genuine rival for the title would send out a strong message.
The other match in this quarter is a showdown between 2020 champion Stuart Bingham and 2018 runner-up Kyren Wilson.
The pair actually just faced each other in the final of Group 4 in the Championship League, where Bingham pipped his fellow Englishman 3-2 to qualify for the competition’s Winners’ Group next month.
That duel took place behind closed doors so there’ll be an entirely different atmosphere when they cross paths again on Wednesday, and Wilson has generally been playing the better snooker so far this campaign.
Shaun Murphy (7) vs Barry Hawkins (11)
Mark Selby (2) vs Stephen Maguire (13)
There are ten former Masters champions in total in the draw this year and two more feature in the bottom quarter.
World number one Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy, the player the Jester beat to land a fourth world crown in Sheffield last May, take on Stephen Maguire and Barry Hawkins respectively.
Selby and Maguire played each other at the same stage in 2021, and it was the Scot who came out on top with a 6-3 victory that restored parity to their head-to-head record from all competitions.
The Glaswegian doesn’t seem to be able to produce a consistent level throughout an event in order to sustain a challenge for the silverware, but he remains a difficult obstacle to overcome in a one-off match.
For Murphy, it has been a terrible 2021/22 snooker term so far that was only made worse after his ill-timed comments concerning amateur players upon defeat to Si Jiahui in the first round of the UK Championship.
The Magician may not have the crowd on his side then, something that 2016 runner-up Hawkins will potentially look to take advantage of.
There are no shocks in a field of this calibre, however, and with each fixture it’ll likely come down to who turns up with their A-game on the day.
Prize, History, and Format
An annual fixture on the snooker schedule since 1975, the Masters is the second oldest Main Tour event with 2022 representing the 48th edition.
As a result it carries a huge amount of prestige that is magnified by its status as an invitational, granting participation to only those ranked inside the world’s top 16 on the official rankings list.
The roll of honour acts as a who’s who of the sport’s greatest protagonists, from its inaugural winner John Spencer to its most recent champion Yan Bingtao.
The likes of Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Jimmy White, Paul Hunter, Cliff Thorburn, and Alex Higgins have enjoyed Masters success too.
There are ten former champions performing in the 2022 Masters schedule, with Ronnie O’Sullivan bidding to claim a record-extending eighth crown.
Mark Selby, John Higgins, and Mark Williams are the other multi-time winners competing again this year.
The Masters trophy is generally considered the biggest and most important to fight for other than the World Championship itself.
A tried and tested format will see the first three rounds contested over eleven frames before the best-of-19 final next Sunday, where the Paul Hunter Trophy and a whopping £250,000 will be on offer for the champion.
Who is winning the Masters then?
— David Hendon (@davehendon) January 6, 2022
How to Watch the Masters
The full 2022 Masters schedule will be broadcast live on the BBC and Eurosport across Ireland and Britain.
There are various other broadcasters around the world providing coverage, which can be viewed by clicking here.
For all other territories, the action can be followed on the Matchroom.Live streaming service via a subscription.
Featured photo credit: WST