This is Ronnie O’Sullivan’s 20th Masters and with four titles and five defeats in finals, four of them close, it’s fair to say it’s a tournament he relishes.
O’Sullivan of course did not compete at Alexandra Palace last year but did turn up on the Saturday night to bring a friend to watch some of the semi-final between Mark Selby and Graeme Dott – two players O’Sullivan does not necessarily enjoy playing.
If he was going to miss playing in any event, it would be the Masters. One table, the elite of the game and a big London crowd all add up to creating the atmosphere in which O’Sullivan thrives.
He has spoken about the slog of the Crucible but the Masters is four matches in a week, with only the final over two sessions.
But what can we expect from the Rocket?
In a similar environment, he excelled at the inaugural Champion of Champions in Coventry in November, taking away the £100,000 first prize.
But at the UK Championship a few weeks later he wasn’t at full strength and went out in the quarter-finals. His strategy in his German Masters qualifier the following week could most politely be described as risky.
He has a good draw in that Robert Milkins, his opponent this evening, is making his debut in the tournament and can be forgiven for being nervous. O’Sullivan beat him 6-0 in the UK Championship and has won all three of their previous meetings.
As ever, though, O’Sullivan’s own mood and attitude will be as important as that of his opponent’s.
He was at Ally Pally yesterday practising and will surely not struggle for motivation. The session is sold out, which is testament to O’Sullivan’s enduring pulling power.
He’s won 37 matches in the Masters, five fewer than Hendry’s record of 42. And as we saw at the Crucible and again at Coventry, when Ronnie O’Sullivan is on his game he is still the man to beat.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.