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Snooker: Defending champ Bingtao kicks-off Masters against Williams

The 48th staging of The Masters gets underway at Alexandra Palace on Sunday afternoon, with reigning champion Yan Bingtao raising the curtain on the event against Mark Williams.

The Chinese cueman defeated John Higgins 10-8 in last year's final and in the process became the youngest Masters champion since Ronnie O'Sullivan in 1995. The 21-year-old is 18/1 to successfuly defend his title.

Although not a ranking event, it is considered as one of the most prestigious tournaments in the calendar and is the second of three Triple Crown events to take place across the season.

Zhao Xintong won the first of those at the UK Championship at the beginning of December to book his place in the Masters, which consists of the world's top 16 players, and he is 22/1 to make it a dream debut.

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O'Sullivan is the most decorated player in Masters history, winning it seven times and finishing runner-up on six occasions, and is 5/1 to taste further success in the capital.

Trump back in Masters action

World number one Judd Trump was forced to withdraw from last year's Masters and he suffered a first-round exit the season prior to that, so will be looking to make up for lost time.

Trump was crowned champion in 2019 but that remains his only win in the competition and his draw could have been considerably kinder.

World Snooker Rankings

1Mark Selby
2Judd Trump
3Ronnie O'Sullivan
4Neil Robertson
5Kyren Wilson
6John Higgins

The Juddernaut, who is 3/1 to lift to the trophy, starts his campaign against Mark Allen before a potential quarter-final clash with fierce rival Kyren Wilson.

Mark Selby, who is 6/1 for a fourth Masters title, could also be lurking in the last four which means Trump may have to do things the hard way if he is to prevail.

Those looking for a value selection outright should side with Selby. The Jester from Leicester can outclass Stephen Maguire in his opener and would be a strong favourite to seal a semi-final spot at the expense of Barry Hawkins or Shaun Murphy.

Robertson out to end losing run

Neil Robertson is one of snooker's hottest properties but for all his success he hasn't always found it easy to deliver at The Masters.

The Aussie ace has been racking up the titles over the last few years but he has won this event only once, which came way back in 2012.

Robertson is 5/1 to end that losing sequence this month but his last two visits to Ally Pally have resulted in first-round exits to Stephen Maguire and Bingtao.

The world number four gets his campaign underway against Anthony McGill this year and the Scot is 11/4 to land another upset.

Roberton is on course to renew his rivalry with O'Sullivan, who had his measure in the World Grand Prix final last month, in the last eight so there may be better bets to be had in the top half.

At 8/1, John Higgins is worth a second look. The Scot is a two-time winner and three-time runner-up of the event and has been rejuvenated this season, making four finals from just eight appearances.

The Wizard of Wishaw faces UK Championship hero Xintong in his opener before a showdown with Bingtao or Williams, so a semi-final place is well within reach.

Keep an eye out for Hawkins

These are the best 16 players in the world so matches are going to be closely-fought, but Hawkins should strongly fancy his first-round chances against Shaun Murphy.

It has been a miserable start to the season for The Magician, who has lost four of his last five matches.

His only win in that period came in a deciding frame against three-time women's world champion, Ng On Yee, and he has also suffered shock defeats to Fraser Patrick, Si Jiahui and Li Hang.

Murphy has an even tougher test on his hands against the in-form Hawkins, who showed his class when making the UK Championship semi-finals last month.

The Hawk can be backed at 11/10, while Murphy is 8/11 to rediscover his form.

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