The conclusion of the UK Championship on Sunday means that the positions for the 2024 Masters snooker draw are now set in stone.
Ronnie O’Sullivan produced a trademark lightning finish to beat Ding Junhui 10-7 in a blockbuster final at the Barbican Centre in York.
The Rocket’s 40th ranking title comes on the 30th anniversary of his maiden triumph, which he famously won at the 1993 UK Championship as a teenager.
O’Sullivan now boasts a record-extending eight UK Crowns in total, in doing so taking his outstanding tally of Triple Crown titles to 22.
The world number one, who turns 48 on Tuesday, will look to make that 23 when he competes at the game’s most prestigious invitational next month.
The first-round draw for the 2024 Masters was conducted on Sunday, with the snooker gods somewhat fittingly pairing O’Sullivan with Ding again.
For the second year in a row, the latter came one hurdle short of capturing a fourth UK title.
But now safely back in his rightful place as a top 16 member, Ding will be hoping to take inspiration from his performances last week into the rest of the campaign.
That will include marking his welcome return to the Alexandra Palace, a venue he hasn’t enjoyed participating in since 2020.
Ding played in the 2021 Masters, where funnily enough he lost 6-5 to O’Sullivan in the first round, but the event was staged at Milton Keynes, and he has missed out on the last two editions of the competition.
Elsewhere, defending champion Judd Trump will encounter Kyren Wilson in the last 16.
Both players have enjoyed vastly different calendar years in 2023, with Trump supporting his Masters victory with a hat-trick of ranking trophies and a few other appearances in big finals.
Wilson, on the other hand, has been struggling badly during the same period – especially this term while suffering a string of early-round defeats.
Along with Trump, there are four more former Masters snooker champions in the top half of the 2024 draw.
Two-time champion and 2023 runner-up Mark Williams meets Ali Carter, while three-time winner Mark Selby will be challenged by Robert Milkins.
The match between Mark Allen and John Higgins pits the 2018 champion against the winner from 1999 and 2006.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, will be the favourite to progress from the bottom half.
The seven-time Masters champion could face Neil Robertson in the quarter-finals, although the Australian has been struggling for form and will likely represent an underdog against Barry Hawkins on this occasion.
Zhang Anda, the only debutant in the field, will meet 2015 winner Shaun Murphy while world champion Luca Brecel faces Jack Lisowski.
The 2024 Masters will run from January 7 to 14 at the Alexandra Palace in London.
– draw, live scores, results –
Last 16 (bo11)
Judd Trump 6-5 Kyren Wilson
Mark Williams 4-6 Ali Carter
Mark Selby 6-1 Robert Milkins
Mark Allen 6-5 John Higgins
Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-3 Ding Junhui
Neil Robertson 3-6 Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy 6-2 Zhang Anda
Luca Brecel 2-6 Jack Lisowski
Judd Trump 5-6 Ali Carter
Mark Selby 5-6 Mark Allen
Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-3 Barry Hawkins
Shaun Murphy 6-3 Jack Lisowski
Ali Carter 6-3 Mark Allen
Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-2 Shaun Murphy
Ali Carter 7-10 Ronnie O’Sullivan
Featured photo credit: WST