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European Masters preview: John Higgins and Barry Hawkins worth a look as big guns head for Nuremberg

The 2023 snooker season sparks into life on Tuesday, kicking off with the European Masters, where Kyren Wilson is the defending champion.

The Warrior defeated Barry Hawkins 9–3 in a one-way final last year to claim his fifth ranking event title and the Kettering cueman is 12/1 to successfully defend his crown.

However, the competition is fierce in Nuremberg's Kia Metropol Arena, with Ronnie O'Sullivan, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby and world champion Luca Brecel among those also travelling to Germany.

The top eight seeds must come through heldover qualifiers before booking their place in the main draw and some have easier passages than others.

Qualifiers and matches up to the quarter-final are played over a best-of-five format with the semi-final over best-of-11 and the final best-of-17.

WhatEuropean Masters
WhereKia Metropol Arena, Nuremberg, Germany
WhenTuesday 22nd August - Sunday 27th August, 2023
How to watchEurosport
OddsRonnie O'Sullivan 5/1, Judd Trump 13/2, Mark Selby 8/1, Neil Robertson 17/2, Shaun Murphy 11/1, Kyren Wilson 12/1

The Rocket hoping for blast off...

It is rare to see seven-time world champion O'Sullivan engaging so early on in the season, but the Rocket heads to Germany to compete for the European Masters.

O'Sullivan did win this event in 2013 and he finished runner-up to Fan Zhengyi two years ago, so will be hoping to go one better this time around.

If bringing his A-game to the table then the Rocket has to be feared but in such a competitive field, where his price is at a premium, it may be best to look elsewhere.

The big prizes are what gets O'Sullivan purring so he may not be fully motivated for the task ahead, although a qualifier against Andy Hicks is unlikely to pose too many challenges.

Winning that would see the third seed drawn alongside Chinese youngster Peng Yisong, a tour debutant with limited experience.

However, Dave Gilbert, Xiao Guodong, Stuart Bingham, Ali Carter and Mark Selby are just some of the names housed in his quarter of the draw, showing he will have to be on the ball from the off over this snappy best-of-five format.

Hawkins has his eye on the prize...

So early on in the campaign it can pay to oppose the household names and one player with a clear chance could be last year's runner-up Hawkins.

The Hawk was no match for Wilson in the final but he had defeated Robert Milkins, Trump and Mark Willams to secure his place in that title decider.

That shows he must have put in the hard graft over the summer and there is no reason to expect any difference this time around.

Hawkins won 5-2 in his qualifier against Sean O'Sullivan at the end of July, a match that saw him knock in breaks of 117, 90, 64, 53.

The 44-year-old finished runner-up to Robertson at the Players Championship and the Masters in 2022, showing all of his ability still remains, and he has a decent draw to work with in Germany.

Hawkins, seeded 18th, opens up against James Cahill before a potential second-round clash with Jiang Jun or Zak Surety.

The Hawk should come through those tests, which would see him in the last 16, where world champion Brecel may be waiting.

However, the Belgian is not the most consistent and there is every possibility he has a slow start to the season on the back of his breakthrough win at the Crucible Theatre.

At 20/1, there has to be value to be had in backing the Kent cueman.

Higgins has plenty in his favour...

With Selby and O'Sullivan set to meet in one quarter and Mark Allen and Trump on course to clash in another, it pays to look at weak areas in a snooker draw.

And John Higgins may have found himself in one of the softer sections with an opening game against Dylan Emery and a second-round clash with either Zhou Yuelong or Andrew Higginson unlikely to halt his progress.

Shaun Murphy or Joe Perry could be lurking in the last 16 but the Wizard of Wishaw would be deserving favourite against either given his renewed focus.

In last month's qualifier, Higgins routed Martin Gould 5-1 and he impressed with a series of big breaks which included runs of 129, 97, 80, 78.

That shows himself to be in good light and suggests the ninth seed, who finished runner-up to Trump in the Huangguoshu Open, an invitational event in China, earlier this month, could do some damage at 14/1.

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