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Ronnie O'Sullivan v Liang Wenbo: Masters Snooker 2017 preview: Rocket launches title defence at Ally Pally

Ronnie O'Sullivan of England shakes hands with Liang Wenbo of China in 2010 (credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan sets out in pursuit of a seventh Masters title when he takes on Chinese ace Liang Wenbo in Round One at Alexandra Palace on Sunday afternoon.

O'Sullivan's emphatic 10-1 victory over Barry Hawkins in last year's final saw him equal Stephen Hendry's record tally of six Masters crowns, now 'The Rocket' bids to go one better and become the first player to successfully retain this trophy since Paul Hunter back in 2002.



With the trophy now named after the late Hunter, O'Sullivan will have extra motivation to keep his hands on the sport's top invitational prize and open his account for the season.

Seeded number one, O'Sullivan is aiming to bounce back from his narrow defeat to Mark Selby in a pulsating UK Championship final last month and is likely to have a 1,500-strong Ally Pally crowd firmly on his side as the local favourite.

The 41-year-old also made it to the Quarter-Finals of the Scottish Open in December but will enter the new calendar year with a fresh sense of optimism as he continues to balance playing and punditry duties.

He faces a tricky opening test in the capital, with English Open winner Liang bidding for his first taste of victory in the Masters arena after losing out to John Higgins on debut 12 months ago.

The former UK Championship finalist has retained his place among the world's top 16 courtesy of some fine displays this season and is renowned for his charismatic approach to the game.

Liang, however, has beaten O'Sullivan only once in televised competition (at the 2013 International Championship), with the five-time World Champion notably edging a 5-4 triumph in the Last 32 of the 2016 Shanghai Masters - their most recent encounter.

Their latest show-down gets underway at 1pm GMT and will be contested over the best of 11 frames at the Alexandra Palace in London.

Either 2012 Masters Champion Neil Robertson or two-time world finalist Ali Carter awaits the winner in the Quarter-Finals later in the week.



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Ronnie O'Sullivan v Liang Wenbo: Masters Snooker 2017 preview: Rocket launches title defence at Ally Pally

Defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan sets out in pursuit of a seventh Masters title when he takes on Chinese ace Liang Wenbo in Round One at Alexandra Palace on Sunday afternoon.

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