Snooker's finest players head to London's Alexandra Palace this weekend for the start of the 2014 Masters, one of the game's 'big three' titles.
Australian ace Neil Robertson scooped the UK Championship before Christmas and, after finishing runner-up at this event in 2013, is being tipped to go far once again.
However, reigning champion Mark Selby will be out to avenge his UK Championship final loss to Robertson, while world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan will be targeting a fifth Masters win.
Here, Neal Foulds - who correctly tipped Robertson to win the UK - assesses the first round ties and makes his Masters prediction.
Mark Selby v Mark Davis
Mark Davis is going to struggle to get through this one, as he did in the Champion of Champions event against Ronnie O'Sullivan, where he looked a bit like a fish out of water. He's been in the mid-rankings for a long time and he finds himself now playing in the Masters and he has to pinch himself. Mark Selby will win this match and, in my view, is the man to beat in this half of the draw. His form is OK, he won this event last year and I think he'll make it to the final once again.
Stuart Bingham v John Higgins
If you had this match five years ago you'd make Higgins massive odds-on favourite. However, Bingham has improved and Higgins isn't playing that well at the moment. He's one of the best players the game has seen and you'd hope he could prove he's still got the game he had but I'd have to say Bingham will win this match. He's very dangerous, plays the game with a smile on his face and beat O'Sullivan in the UK Championship in a high-class match. The bookies may go for Higgins but I'd go for Bingham.
Judd Trump v Marco Fu
This is a tight match. Judd Trump beat Marco Fu in the Champion of Champions from 3-1 down but at the moment Judd still has to prove he is the player he was. There's been an awful lot of talk from Judd in the last year but not a lot of great play. I won't give up on him because I think he's a really good player but the winner of this match could struggle against the winner of the Ding-Murphy match, given their current form.
Ding Junhui v Shaun Murphy
Shaun Murphy got a 147 this week but he's turned into one of the game's underachievers. That may seem a bit harsh to say about someone who has won a world title, a UK title and has been in the final of the Masters - but he hasn't won anything since the 2011 Brazil Masters. He's got a tough match with Ding Junhui here, too. Ding has said he's excited to be at the Masters and, after winning three ranking events so far this season, he will be confident. Both players come into this match in good form, though, and the winner could go a long way.
Neil Robertson Mark Allen
Neil Robertson has smashed the record for centuries in a season. Judd Trump held the title with 61 but Robertson passed that mark earlier this week - and there are still four months of the season to go. He made three total clearances and won 3-0 against Joe Perry in the Championship League this week, proving again he's a brilliant scorer and he's my pick to win the Masters this year. Mark Allen has got a big title in him but he's becoming slightly infuriating to follow at the moment because his form is very up and down. Robertson, though, has been consistently strong for a long time now and, after completing the Triple Crown at the UK Championship in December, he'll be the man to beat in this half of the draw.
Stephen Maguire v Joe Perry
Joe Perry won Championship League Group Two this week which might not mean an awful lot but he did beat Robertson along the way, which shows he's playing well. However, neither of these two are in good enough form to win this event - and you rarely get surprise winners at the Masters. Perry has always been a good player but tends to tighten up on the biggest stages in the past, while, although we know Stephen Maguire is capable, I don't think either of those two are going to be able to get past Robertson.
Barry Hawkins v Ricky Walden
Ricky Walden has just won Championship League Group One, so is in good shape, and these two had a terrific match in the World Championship semi-final last year, which Barry Hawkins won, so this should be a good encounter. Both men are good players and are both underrated. I'd just favour Walden to win this one. His general form is better, having seen off Ali Carter and Judd Trump in the Championship League. However, with Ronnie O'Sullivan in that section of the draw, we could also be set for a repeat of last year's world championship final, should Hawkins get through.
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Robert Milkins
There is one match that's on everyone's mind at the moment, which was a qualifier for the German Masters. Ronnie O'Sullivan was up against Thailand's Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and he put in a wild performance and lost 5-4. Ronnie nearly won the match but it was almost like he decided he wanted to win without playing any safety shots. Ronnie won the Champion of Champions event but by the time he was knocked out of the UK Championship he had probably gone a little stale. It will be interesting to see if his break since the German qualifiers has freshened him up a bit and whether he's now back to his best. As we all know, the reason Ronnie has won last two Worlds is because he's not played much and it has suited him to be fresh. He's still the best in the world, without a doubt, and hopefully he's rejuvenated. His opponent is someone Ronnie made mincemeat of in the UK Championship, so he's got a good start but I won't be tipping him to win the event because I have a nagging doubt in my mind. Although he's the great player he is, that last performance has brought him back to the pack in my opinion.
I think we're going to see a repeat of the 2013 final between Mark Selby and Neil Robertson.
Robertson got his own back for losing that match with victory over Selby in the UK Championship final and I think he'll win this one too. Robertson is the man in form and the man to beat at the moment.
This pair have had some good tussles in the UK this year and they are two of the leading players in the game right now.
Obviously, O'Sullivan is the joker in the pack. But his one match in the German Masters worries me. It caused a stir in the game and I'm going to leave him alone. I'd love to see him win it because it would be great for the game, but I reckon Robertson will win his second Masters title this year.
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