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What's gone wrong for world snooker champion Luca Brecel this season?

The Masters got underway on Sunday, but no sooner had the tournament began than world champion Luca Brecel was making a swift and early exit.

Brecel, who sensationally became the first player from mainland Europe to claim World Championship glory in May, has struggled for form since his Crucible heroics, and his first-round exit at the hands of Jack Lisowski at the Masters was the latest in a string of poor results.

Speaking after his 6-2 defeat to Jack-Pot at Alexandra Palace, Brecel described his performance as "terrible" and "not good enough", but can he rediscover his form and belief ahead of his Crucible defence?

World Championship success becoming a distant memory

Heading into the 2023 World Championship, Brecel had never won a match at the Crucible and was a 33/1 outsider to land the title.

However, the Belgian Bullet defied those odds, beating former world champions Mark Williams, Ronnie O'Sullivan and Mark Selby en-route to the biggest title of his fledgling career and playing some eye-catching and progressive snooker in the process.

That victory lifted the 28-year-old up to a career-high number two in the world rankings and expectations were high that he could build on his World Championship success this season.

Unfortunately for Brecel, those hopes are yet to bear fruit, and he has been left battling to rediscover the kind of form that saw him clinch the sport's most illustrious title.

Early exits a familiar theme

It hasn't all been doom and gloom for Brecel this season, as he did enjoy a run to the final of the non-ranking Shanghai Masters in September where he found only O'Sullivan too strong, but in ranking events it has been largely a tale of disappointment.

The Belgian began his season solidly enough, reaching the last 16 of the European Masters in August where he was edged out in a best-of-nine contest by eventual champion Barry Hawkins.

A similar run to the last 16 followed at the English Open where he was knocked out by Ding Junhui, but since then Brecel has suffered early exits at the International Championship and Scottish Open and lost in the second round of the opening Triple Crown event of the season, the UK Championship.

He also failed to qualify for the upcoming World Grand Prix as a result of falling out of the top 32 on the one-year money table - he currently sits in a tie for 37th on that list with another former world champion Stuart Bingham.

Brecel had hoped the new year would bring a change in fortunes, but his first-round exit at the Masters to Lisowski, himself a player that had been struggling for results, has further underlined the world champion's alarming dip in form.

Can Brecel rediscover his very best?

While Brecel is no doubt concerned about his drop in form, saying after his defeat to Lisowski that he will be heading to Q School in the near future if his struggles continue, he still has plenty of time to turn his fortunes around.

A break during next week's World Grand Prix may also do him the world of good, with his next ranking-event appearance set to come at the German Masters at the end of the month - a tournament that will hold fond memories for him as he reached his first ranking-event final there in 2016.

The Welsh Open, Players Championship and Tour Championship are also potential targets for Brecel over the second half of the season, but his main focus will be on his Crucible defence, which is set to get underway in April.

Brecel is 12/1 to go on and defend his world title in Sheffield, with the likes of Judd Trump (4/1), O'Sullivan (4/1) and Selby (11/2) currently ahead of him in the betting.

Having exited at the first round on his five visits to the Crucible before his 2023 heroics, Brecel will certainly be hoping not to revert back to type at this year's event, but his form and confidence are both surely going to have to move in an upward trajectory if he is to avoid that fate.

Any odds displayed were correct at the time of writing and are subject to fluctuation.

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