Wednesday sees the end of the first round matches at the Dafabet Masters…
MARK ALLEN v JOHN HIGGINS (1pm)
Higgins has something of a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with the Masters, winning the title twice from four finals but losing in the first round on ten occasions in 20 previous meetings.
This modern day great of the game has had the look of a player holding on to his place in the elite bracket, with top 16 membership for the Crucible yet to be secured.
It’s been a disappointing couple of years for Higgins since he staged his comeback from 7-2 down to beat Judd Trump in the final of the 2012 Shanghai Masters, the last major title he won.
The 39 year-old, then, needs a good run in a big event but Allen represents a tough challenge. It’s 5-5 in previous meetings with Allen winning their only encounter in the Masters, 6-3 in the quarter-finals in 2010.
Allen was in four finals earlier this season, winning a European Tour event, but is still looking for a breakthrough in one of the game’s majors. A former UK Championship runner-up and World Championship semi-finalist, he reached the Masters last four in 2011.
The Northern Irishman does have a tendency to blow hot and cold from tournament to tournament but Higgins has often been doing that within a single match of late, a frustrating state of affairs for the four times world champion.
It would be foolhardy to write off his chances. Great players can’t be so simply dismissed – Steve Davis memorably won the 1997 Masters when he was in apparent decline – but another so-so performance would mean a dispiriting start to the new year for Higgins.
And Allen is just the sort of attacking player well placed to exploit any weaknesses in Higgins’s game.
DING JUNHUI v JOE PERRY (7pm)
It must be said the omens are not good for Perry, who is yet to win a match in the Masters from six previous appearances and who trails Ding 9-2 in previous meetings. Indeed, Ding won their first meeting at the age of just 16 in the wildcard round of the 2004 Masters.
But Ding has not hit the heights this season in the way he did last, or at least not yet. He arrived at Alexandra Palace last year with three ranking titles already under his belt and would win another two. This campaign has been much quieter.
Ding captured the Masters title in 2011 but has not won a match in the event since. Maybe his preparation for this first tournament of the calendar year is not always spot on. Then again, the three players he has lost to in the last 16 are Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy, so he need not berate himself too much.
Perry of course started the season really well, losing 10-9 in the final of the Wuxi Classic back in June. But to cause an upset he will have to settle early in a tournament that is yet to yield him any success.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.