Ronnie O’Sullivan launches his quest for a record-extending eighth Masters title when he plays good friend Ding Junhui on Monday.
The pair renew their friendly rivalry at Alexandra Palace just 36 days after contesting the UK Championship final in York, where O’Sullivan eventually prevailed 10-7 to secure his eighth crown.
They are also incredibly familiar at the Masters. Indeed, this is their sixth meeting in snooker’s most prestigious invitational event stretching back to 2005.
O’Sullivan has prevailed in all five previous encounters, most notably in the 2007 final when he famously consoled a then teenage Ding following a commanding 10-3 victory.
The Rocket is gearing up for his record-extending 80th match at the tournament on what will be his 29th appearance – a tally only bettered by John Higgins (30) – and has only lost his opening game on four occasions.
It will only be his sixth event of the season, in which he has already captured an invitational title courtesy of the Shanghai Masters.
Meanwhile, Ding is back at the Masters after a three-year absence for his 18th appearance, two decades since his first.
Champion in 2011 – one of only five from overseas – the Dragon is also one of only three players to compile a maximum break at the event, doing so against Anthony Hamilton at Wembley Arena 17 years ago.
As well as his run to the UK final, Ding has reached the last eight of a further three tournaments this season, and advancing to another with victory here would avert a 10th defeat in his opening match of the event.
The winner of this match will play either Neil Robertson or Barry Hawkins in the Masters quarter-finals.
Play gets under way at 1pm GMT on Monday and will be contested over the best of 11 frames at Alexandra Palace.
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