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O’Sullivan begins defence of Masters snooker crown against Walden

Ricky Walden has probably just about got over losing to Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-0 in the 2014 Masters snooker quarter-finals, but now ‘the Walnut’ is facing a repeat of that in this year’s opening round against Coral’s 13/8 tournament favourite.

History is not on Walden’s side here. The only time he has beaten ‘the Rocket’ was in the 2008 Shanghai Masters final, and that is why the Walnut is a 9/2 match outsider.

Punters will not be shocked to learn modern era snooker genius O’Sullivan is an odds-on favourite both in the match betting (2/13), and to win while making the highest break of the contest (8/15). A repeat of last year’s whitewash at Alexandra Palace is 17/2 for a 6-0 scoreline in Rocket Ronnie’s favour.

There may also be some value in looking at the race to four frames market here. Back O’Sullivan to have the better of these opening exchanges, and his odds-on prices in the outright market improve. A 3-1 lead for the Rocket is a 6/4 chance, while he’s 15/4 to win all four.

Alternatively, why not take the 11/10 price on five-time Masters champion O’Sullivan with the handicap of a three-frame deficit.

In the other match on day three of this non-ranking, but hugely prestigious snooker event, world number five Barry Hawkins battles Ali Carter, who has recently returned to the baize after illness.

‘The Captain’ holds a huge historical head-to-head advantage of 9-1 over ‘the Hawk’ but, because of his time out of the game with cancer, is a 15/8 outsider for victory. As he has had the better of Hawkins, however, odds of 4/1 for Carter to win and make the highest match break are hugely tempting.

Harsh as it may sound, the Hawk holds a false ranking which is based entirely on him reaching the World Championship final at the Crucible in 2013 and the semis last season. Punters should be wary of this, and see Hawkins’ odds-on 1/2 status to win this Masters first round contest as an opportunity to make money by backing his opponent Carter.