TUESDAY AT THE DAFABET MASTERS sees the defending champion take centre stage…
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN v RICKY WALDEN (1pm)
It is Stephen Hendry’s birthday on Tuesday and the day could conceivably end with another one of his records having been broken.
Hendry has retired on 775 career centuries. O’Sullivan has made 773. The record will go, possibly this week, possibly against Walden. Hendry may even be commentating for the BBC.
Walden can curse his luck at this draw, 12 months on from O’Sullivan’s imperious display in their quarter-final, which he won 6-0 in 58 minutes, setting a new points without reply record of 556 in the process.
This was a procession of great snooker from O’Sullivan, for whom the Masters remains an annual highlight. From ten finals in 20 previous appearances he has won five titles, the first of which came 20 years ago.
We saw at the Champion of Champions and UK Championship how much he still revels in a great atmosphere – and how well he is still playing.
Walden, meanwhile, has other problems, namely a shoulder injury which has affected his game in recent weeks. In truth, though, even if you’re at full fitness, an in form O’Sullivan presents a unique challenge for anyone.
BARRY HAWKINS v ALI CARTER (7pm)
This is Carter’s highest profile match since he returned from his cancer treatment and may well be an emotional occasion for him. In those long, gruelling days undergoing chemotherapy, this is the kind of evening he would have been longing for.
He is sure to get great support and plenty of goodwill. World Snooker humanely froze Carter’s seeding to ensure he would be a top 16 player for the rest of the season. It’s easy to say results in this context don’t matter but, of course, they do. Carter has a living to earn just like anyone else.
And Hawkins has become a very solid match-player. He’s had an inconsistent season, doing well in some events but suffering some setbacks too, none worse than his 6-5 defeat from 5-0 up to Nigel Bond in the last 64 of the UK Championship.
Hawkins is certainly a better player than when he lost 10-9 to Carter in the first round of the 2008 World Championship and crucially feels more confident on the big occasions, as he proved with his run to the 2013 Crucible final.
He said he has struggled a little for motivation in tournaments a bit below the radar but will have no such problem at the Masters.
Carter holds a 5-1 advantage on their personal head-to-head and would be a popular winner. It doesn’t take long to go from Chelmsford to the Ally Pally but his journey to the Masters has been the longest and hardest of all.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.