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Ronnie O’Sullivan v Ding Junhui: Masters 2021 preview – Rocket aims to shoot down The Dragon

Jamie Shaw in The Masters

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Yan Bingtao denies Neil Robertson in Masters decider as Maguire sends home Selby

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Ronnie O’Sullivan comeback denies Ding Junhui at The Masters

Ding and O’Sullivan embrace (Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan begins his bid for an eighth Masters title with a box office clash against Ding Junhui in Milton Keynes on Wednesday.

O’Sullivan is the most decorated player in Betfred Masters history, having claimed the title on seven occasions across three different decades, while finishing runner-up on a further six occasions.

Having opted out of last year’s tournament at Alexandra Palace, ‘The Rocket’ returns to the sport’s most prestigious invitational as reigning World Champion and the number two seed.

The 37-time ranking event winner has appeared in two finals this season, falling narrowly short of glory in both the Northern Ireland Open and Scottish Open.

O’Sullivan has reached the final in four of his last six Masters appearances, but is faced with a formidable opener against China’s number one in a repeat of the 2007 final.

A fresh-faced 19-year-old Ding was left in tears following his 10-3 defeat to his snooker idol 14 years ago but has long since enjoyed success in this fixture, most notably in the 2017 World Championship and 2019 UK Championship.

A decade on from winning The Masters at Wembley, Ding is looking to become the tenth multiple winner of this illustrious title, with his most recent success coming at the 2019 UK Championship.

Ding has four Quarter-Finals to his name this season but is yet to really threaten and will hope to kick-start the new year with a high-profile win over the new tournament favourite.

With Neil Robertson and Mark Selby having both crashed out of the competition on Tuesday, both players will sense an added opportunity to make their mark on the behind closed doors event.

They have met 24 times in previous competition, with O’Sullivan winning 16 matches to Ding’s five, plus a further three draws.

The match gets underway from 1pm GMT and will be contested over the best of 11 frames.

Either two-time Masters champion John Higgins or 2018 champion Mark Allen will await the winner in the Quarter-Finals.