Ronnie O'Sullivan is hoping to become only the second player ever to reach five consecutive Wembley finals when he begins the defence of his Masters title tomorrow. His opening match against Stephen Maguire pits the provisional World No 1 and No 2 against each other.
O'Sullivan beat Maguire 10-2 last month to win the UK Championship – his first ranking title for 33 months – but the 32-year-old twice-world champion does not expect a simple rematch. "Stephen will be back stronger," he said.
As usual, the Masters field has strength in depth. Nine of the 18 competitors at the Wembley Arena, where a £150,000 winner's cheque is up for grabs, have won a major title in the past two years.
World Champion John Higgins' match against China's Ding Junhui is another that catches the eye in the first round. But O'Sullivan is the man with Wembley form. He beat Ding 10-3 last year, and Higgins 10-3 in 2005. He lost 10-9 thrillers in 2006 to Higgins and in 2004 to Paul Hunter. Only Stephen Hendry has ever reached five straight Masters finals, between 1989 and 1993. He won them all, and made the final again in 1994, but lost.
"I love the Masters and I'm proud of my record over the last four years," O'Sullivan said. "Even the finals I lost, I don't mind looking back on them, because they were both great matches."