Barry Hawkins is targeting a third successive Masters victory over Shaun Murphy when the pair lock horns in the opening round on Monday.
Both players arrive at Alexandra Palace for snooker’s most prestigious invitational event having endured quiet seasons to date.
Albeit struggling with neck and back problems, Murphy has suffered first-round exits at the British Open, Champion of Champions and UK Championship, where he drew criticism for his comments following defeat by Chinese amateur Si Jiahui.
A run to the Northern Ireland Open quarter-finals represents the Magician’s best performance of the campaign so far.
It is now seven years since Murphy completed the Triple Crown in emphatic fashion at Ally Pally; defeating World champion Mark Selby along the way before comprehensively sweeping Neil Robertson aside 10-2 in the showpiece.
Although, the world number seven has only progressed beyond the quarter-finals of the tournament on one occasion since.
During that span, he has also lost twice against Hawkins, who prevailed 6-1 in the 2017 first round and 6-2 at the same stage two years later.
The Hawk returns to the event this year following his absence 12 months ago after poor form culminated in him dropping out of the top 16.
The former World finalist had fallen at the first hurdle in two of his three previous appearances, but he does know what it takes to embark on deep runs in the capital.
Indeed, Hawkins reached the 2016 showpiece before suffering a 10-1 demolition at the hands of Ronnie O’Sullivan, while he surrendered a 5-2 advantage against good friend Joe Perry in the following year’s semi-finals.
Either Mark Selby or Stephen Maguire awaits the winner of this clash in the Quarter-Finals later this week.
Play gets underway at 7pm GMT on Monday with the match contested over the best of 11 frames at the Alexandra Palace.