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Shanghai Masters preview: Ronnie O'Sullivan leads snooker's stars on return to China

The World Snooker Tour is back in China for the first time since 2019 this week as the Shanghai Masters returns to the calendar.

Originally cast as a ranking event when it was inaugurated back in 2007, the Shanghai Masters became an invitation-only event a decade later in 2017.

Dominic Dale defeated Ryan Day in an all-Welsh final in the first instalment, while Ronnie O'Sullivan's 11-9 win over Shaun Murphy in 2019 was his third on the trot and fourth overall.

The Rocket headlines a 24-strong cast for the 2023 renewal, with former winners Mark Selby, John Higgins and home-favourite Ding Junhui joining reigning world champion Luca Brecel in the mix.

All matches up to and including the quarter-finals are best of 11 frames, while the semi-finals are best of 19 and then the final will be best of 21.

 

WhatShanghai Masters
WhereShanghai Grand Stage, Shanghai, China
WhenMonday 11th September – Sunday 17th September, 2023
How to watchEurosport, Discovery+
OddsRonnie O'Sullivan 4/1, Judd Trump 6/1, Mark Selby 7/1, Neil Robertson 15/2, Shaun Murphy 15/2, Mark Allen 11/1, Luca Brecel 12/1, Ding Junhui 20/1

Rocket returns to Shanghai

Ronnie O'Sullivan is the defending champion this week, having beaten Shaun Murphy in the 2019 final.

That was his fourth win overall and third on the trot, while the Chigwell man was also a beaten finalist to Ricky Walden back in 2008.

In the 2017 decider, he outplayed Judd Trump to win 10-3, while back-to-back 11-9 victories over Barry Hawkins and Murphy came after this event became non-ranking.

O'Sullivan, 47, has his detractors and at times with good reason but there's little doubt that beneath the sometimes polar-opposite face he puts on it publicly, snooker is his true passion and is a game he cares deeply about.

When he plays in China, the now seven-time world champion enjoys Lionel Messi-like adulation. This isn't lost on O'Sullivan, who has spoken often of the importance that China and the Far East will have in snooker's future and it is perhaps a reason that he often shines in this event.

He adores pleasing the crowds that come to feast on his every move and starts the tournament as 4/1 favourite to win again.

This is, however, his first WST event of the season and there could be some rustiness when he opens up against either Ali Carter or a wildcard. 

Brecel amongst big names now

In the 24-player format, the top eight seeds are spared the opening round as they enter at the last-16 stage.

World champion Luca Brecel faces Mark Williams or Pang Junxu as the Belgian potter continues to adjust to his new status in the game.

Brecel, 28, has been in the pro ranks since 2011 and was always touted as a talent to reckon with but his Crucible win last season was by some way the biggest statement of his career.

For that fortnight in Sheffield he was able to bring his game to new levels and he survived the greatest test in matchplay snooker in overcoming Selby 18-15 in the final.

He has pedigree in the Far East too, as the 2017 China Championship winner – defeating Shaun Murphy in the decider. 

Now the owner of four ranking titles, Brecel faces into a new era in his own career this season as he attempts to establish himself amongst the real elite of the game. 

He is ranked No.2 in the world and it is going to be very interesting to see how Brecel handles himself in the months to come. 

Trump may face friendly fire early on

If Brecel wants to learn a thing or two about pushing on after a maiden Crucible crown, he can look to Judd Trump. 

The Ace in the Pack was nothing short of awesome in his 2019 World Championship decider against John Higgins, fulfilling a destiny many felt was long held.

The Bristolian would add nine more titles to his collection across the rest of 2019 and 2020, though he is now coming off a disappointing 2022/23 season that failed to yield any silverware.

Three of his 2020/21 titles – the World Grand Prix, German Masters and Gibraltar Open – saw him defeating Jack Lisowski in the finals.

The pair are best friends off the baize and Trump will face either Lisowski (8/15) or Zhou Yuelong (6/4) after they play their opener on Monday. 

After the frustration of last season, three-time beaten finalist Trump is 6/1 to finally win in Shanghai. Lisowski, a player yet to truly fulfil his potential, is 33/1 to be crowned champion next Sunday. 

Ding among early starters

Two-time winner and home hero Ding Junhui is 4/9 to win his first round clash with compatriot Si Jiahui (7/4) – the 21-year-old that lit up the World Championship with his run to the semi-finals a few short months ago.

Si was beaten 5-0 in round two of the recent European Masters in Germany by Kyren Wilson. Ding, now 15th in the world rankings, is playing his first tournament of the season and the 36-year-old will know that a good campaign is required if he is to avoid sliding from the vaunted top-16. 

Their clash is certain to draw a crowd and UK punters will be mindful of the early start times. 

Play starts at 02.30 UK time on the first two days of the tournament, while from then on the morning sessions start at 07:00 UK time and the evening sessions begin at 12.30 UK time. 

The semi-finals will be played across Friday and Saturday, with the final on Sunday. 

This article was written by a partner sports writer via Spotlight Sports Group. All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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