The Masters provides upsets but nothing is unexpected in battle of the best

Mark Williams picked up a rare win over Ronnie O’Sullivan last year (Picture: Getty Images)

When only the 16 best players in the world get together we should know that there is no such thing as the unexpected, but nevertheless we will stunned by some results at The Masters in the coming days.

The top eight on the planet are drawn against the next eight in the rankings in the first round at Alexandra Palace, leaving it perilously difficult to pick out any winners.

Last year Mark Allen arrived in north London shortly after winning the Northern Ireland Open and UK Championship and was tonked 6-0 by Barry Hawkins in his opening match.

Hossein Vafaei turned up as a very late replacement, making his debut against a three-time champion and waltzed past Mark Selby into the second round.

The odds are not just upset in the opening round. Last year Shaun Murphy had brilliantly beaten defending champion Neil Robertson first up, only to be whitewashed 6-0 by Stuart Bingham in the quarter-finals.

At the same stage Mark Williams picked up a rare win over Ronnie O’Sullivan, his first over the Rocket in nine years in a long format match.

The 2022 semis saw Robertson beat Williams in a deciding frame despite needing two snookers and absolutely no one does that to the craftiest of veterans.

Stuart Bingham and Ali Carter

Stuart Bingham beat Ali Carter in the 2020 final after the Captain replaced Ronnie O’Sullivan in the draw (Picture: Getty Images)

The 2021 final was won by debutant Yan Bingtao, in 2020 it was an unlikely clash between Bingham and Ali Carter and in 2019 Judd Trump winning was no shock, but walloping O’Sullivan 10-4 in the showpiece was a serious surprise.

Of course there are shock results in every tournament, but the point is that no one should actually be surprised by anything in the Masters.

Occasionally it will make perfect sense to pick a certain winner before a match, the bookmakers will make one player heavy favourite and all the pundits will be leaning towards that man. Never be so certain.

There are a couple of first round matches this year that fit into that category.

Mark Selby will go into his clash with Rob Milkins as clear favourite, few will be tipping Kyren Wilson to beat man of the season Trump, while O’Sullivan will be widely fancied to oust Ding Junhui.

Those underdogs are all ready, willing and able to have their day at Ally Pally and do not be surprised if they do.

Other ties are even obviously a nightmare to call. Try and pick winners from Mark Allen vs John Higgins, Luca Brecel vs Jack Lisowski and Neil Robertson vs Barry Hawkins. Anyone nailing three from three there has done very, very well.

What makes the Masters all the more unpredictable is that it often doesn’t fit into a player’s form for the rest of the season.

Trump is very accustomed to winning multiple titles in a season, but the Masters was the only trophy he lifted over the last campaign.

Yan’s win in 2021 is his only title since 2019, Bingham has won one title since ’19 and it was the Masters, Allen lifted one trophy in the 2017/18 season and it was at Alexandra Palace.

Cazoo Masters - Day Eight

Even Judd Trump winning in 2023 was not expected given his form at the time (Picture: Getty Images)

Whoever emerges victorious at Alexandra Palace will be quickly tipped as a leading contender to win the World Championship in May, but only once in 20 years has someone won the Masters and left the Crucible with the trophy in the same season – Trump doing so in 2019.

O’Sullivan seems a good bet for Ally Pally glory after winning the UK Championship just last month, but again, just once in 20 years has anyone claimed the UK and then the Masters in the same campaign – Selby in 2012/13.

The unpredictability of the Masters is the beauty of the tournament. The greatest and most anticipated sporting contests are as close to 50-50 affairs as possible.

We don’t want to know who is going to win before a ball is struck and at Ally Pally we have no idea at all.

The Masters gets underway on Sunday 7 January at Alexandra Palace.

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