The first snooker tournament of 2024 will be won on Sunday when two leading lights in the game meet in the final of The Masters as Ali Carter goes up against the former champion Ronnie O’Sullivan inside Alexandra Palace.
O’Sullivan will be looking to win this title for an eighth time while Carter will be looking for a first Triple Crown title of any kind. It is a race to 10 for the Paul Hunter Trophy in what should be a cracking conclusion to the week.
I think it is fair to say that Ali Carter has been the player of the week so far. He might not have hit a maximum break like a couple of players have done but the all-round standard of his snooker has been incredibly high and in keeping with the way he has been playing for the last 12 months. This will be his second Masters final and he probably should have won the first four years ago when he led Stuart Bingham late on only to be passed at the finish line. That will act as further motivation.
Carter has seen off three former winners of this tournament already. He got past Mark Williams with a spurt towards the finish line and then produced some top class snooker with his back firmly against the wall against Judd Trump in the quarter final and then a burst of three successive centuries was far too good for Mark Allen in the semi-final. It will be easier said than done but if Carter can play like he has this week he’ll go close here at the very least.
I don’t think we’ve seen the consistent best of Ronnie O’Sullivan this week but at the same time I suspect we are at the stage of his career where we are only going to see his best form in bursts when it is needed. That is how it has been this week. He pulled clear of Ding Junhui in the first round with two excellent frames when the challenge arrived, outlasted Barry Hawkins in the quarter final and then once again when Shaun Murphy looked like he was laying a gauntlet down he sped past him too so his best form is there when he needs it.
O’Sullivan is a regular winner of this tournament but he hasn’t won it since 2017 so that might be something that weighs on his mind a little in this final. I’ve thought all week that he has been up for the battle though and he hasn’t done anything to prove me wrong despite the cobblers he comes out with in interviews. The key has been his long game has looked really sharp and generally when that is in good order he is tough to beat.
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Look away now Ali Carter fans! These two have met on 19 previous occasions with Ronnie O’Sullivan winning 18 of them to the one of Carter. That sole Carter win was in that edgy World Championship clash in 2018. On the frame count O’Sullivan is well ahead at 148-84. This will be the third time they have met in a final with the previous two being at the World Championship which O’Sullivan won both times. This will be their third meeting at The Masters with O’Sullivan winning the previous two but it will be the first time they have done battle over the best of 19 frames.
I think we are in for a good final here but it is one that I expect Ronnie O’Sullivan to win. The sentimentalist in me hopes that isn’t the case because with everything that Ali Carter has been through he deserves a Triple Crown title but the rest of the season will be set up lovely if O’Sullivan heads to the World Championship looking for the big three in the same season. When you think of golf and tennis talk ramps up when players win the first two majors of a season.
I see this being a little like the UK Championship final where Carter might well be competitive in the early stages but when the pressure really arrives and the challenge heightens I think O’Sullivan will put the afterburners on when the finish line is in sight and I think he’ll eventually pull away and win no worse than the 10-7 he beat Ding by in York. He is too clever to come out and actually say it but he always likes to put Carter in his place after that World Championship incident six years ago. I expect Carter to give this a good go but he might have run into the wrong man in the wrong place.
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