Race to the 2014 Masters: All You Need to Know

After all of the months of talking about the race to the 2014 Masters, the final tournament prior to the all-important seedings cut-off is upon us, with the 2013 UK Championship due to start a week on Tuesday.

Click below for my look at all the permutations and who has to do what, to claim the final places in snooker’s biggest invitational event…

  • Click here to view the latest projected seedings list
  • Click here to view the ranking points tariffs for 2013/14
  • Click here to view the draw for the 2013 UK Championship

As ever, in 2014 there will be 16 players involved at the Masters in London, including reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and the top 15 players in the rankings following the UK Championship in York.

Of course normally the tournament sees the world’s top 16 players qualify, however as O’Sullivan finds himself ranked outside of the top 16 on the current points list, he will take one of those spots as world champion.

So who are the players involved?

Looking at the points list, it is fairly obvious to see that as well as Ronnie O’Sullivan, the top nine down to Shaun Murphy are safe. Further, looking at the draw and at what stage the contenders are poised to meet in the tournament, I also make Mark Allen a mathematical certainty to qualify, following his recent European Tour success.

Surely safe – John Higgins

So that is 11 of the 16 places already accounted for, meaning that the first person mathematically at risk is Scotland’s John Higgins, although it would take an extremely specific set of results to work against him for this to happen.

For example, if Higgins were to lose his opening match to Alex Borg (in itself an unlikely event you would imagine given Borg’s record), it would take a scenario such as Ali Carter or Graeme Dott reaching the final, Joe Perry the semi-finals, Robert Milkins and Ricky Walden the last 16 and finally Mark Davis the last 32, to see him narrowly miss out.

Whilst this is possible, I would fully expect John to win at least his opening match, so would take his participation in London as a given.

Next up comes Mark Davis, currently occupying 12th place on the all important projected seedings list. Should he lose his opening match to Robin Hull, four of the following seven scenarios would have to happen for Davis to slip out of the top 15:

  • Ricky Walden to reach the last 64, Robert Milkins to reach the last 32, Joe Perry to reach the quarter-finals, Ali Carter or Graeme Dott to reach the semi-finals, Mark Williams or Matthew Stevens to reach the final

Ali Carter and Graeme Dott are set to meet at the last 32 stage, which means that just six of the seven scenarios could happen.

Davis – One win to make sure?

All things considered, I would be surprised to see it happen, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Graeme Dott and Joe Perry could make it to those stages given the fact that both were semi-finalists in the recent International Championship, with Ricky Walden and Robert Milkins also winning a couple of matches. Mark would no doubt like to win his opening match against Hull to effectively seal his Masters berth.

Some 635 points behind Mark is Ricky Walden and for him the situation is a similar one, with three of the following six scenarios enough to put Ricky out of the top 15, should he lose his opening match to Cao Xinlong:

  • Robert Milkins to reach the last 64, Joe Perry, Ali Carter or Graeme Dott to reach the quarter-finals, Mark Williams or Matthew Stevens to reach the final

Again, Dott and Carter will meet at the last 32 stage, meaning that only one of them will be able to reach the last eight, while an opening round victory for Walden would mean that they would need to reach the semi-finals to potentially move above Ricky.

In reality, I think that Ricky would like to win at least a couple of matches before he can really relax, but with Joe Perry in Neil Robertson’s section of the draw for example, it may be that he will be safe in any event.

Robert Milkins – close, but not yet safe

A further 480 points back comes Robert Milkins, who following a flying start to the season, has not quite wrapped up his place yet, having scored just 360 points at the last two European Tour events. If he were to lose his opening match against Patrick Einsle in York, two of the following scenarios would be enough to put him out of the top 15:

  • Joe Perry or Ali Carter to reach the last 16, Graeme Dott to reach the quarter-finals, Mark Williams or Matthew Stevens to reach the semi-finals

As above, Graeme Dott and Ali Carter would meet early in the tournament so only one of these could happen, but clearly even if the Welsh duo of Williams and Stevens fail to make the semi-finals, it is not too difficult to foresee Perry reaching the last 16 and Dott the last eight.

If Milkins were to win his opening match, Perry and Carter would then need to reach the quarter-finals to overtake him, Dott the semi-finals and Willams/Stevens the final, while two wins for Milkins would leave Perry and Carter also needing to reach the semi-finals.

Joe Perry – on the bubble

It is probably fair to say then that for all of the players mentioned so far, their fates are very much in their own hands, with a couple of wins likely to be enough to seal their places at the Alexandra Palace.

For the remaining contenders however, they are very much in the thick of the battle and needing every win that they can possibly get to give themselves a chance.

First up is Joe Perry, who currently sitting in 15th place on the list, currently holds on to the final qualifying position, but just 380 points ahead of Ali Carter. Both in opposite halves of the draw and each needing three wins to challenge those above, for the first week, the focus will very much be on winning their own matches and looking to go one better than the other.

A further 475 points behind Carter comes Graeme Dott and as you will have already noted if you have read the rest of the article above, he is set to meet Dott at the last 32 stage of the competition, the winner effectively coming through as the biggest danger to those above them.

Looking at the draw, the respective paths of the three players early in the tournament are:

  • Perry: R128 – James Cahill, R64 – Burden/Wells, R32 – Davis/Hull/Selt/Donaldson
  • Carter: R128 – Ratchayothin Yotharuck , R64 – J.Robertson/Yan, R32 – Dott/Patrick/Bond/Steadman
  • Dott: R128 – Fraser Patrick, R64 – Bond/Steadman, R32 – Carter/Yotharuk/Robertson/Yan

In short then, watch this space, I would be surprised to see any of the three lose before the last 32 stage, which will no doubt see this battle rumble on into the second week in York.

Finally, the final two players still in with a shout of snatching one of the final spots at the Alexandra Palace are Welsh duo Matthew Stevens and Mark Williams. As a bare minimum, both Matthew and Mark must win at least two matches, though in all likelihood I would be surprised if anything less than a run to the final in York would be enough to see them climb into the top 15.

So we shall see, hopefully the above helps to give you some sort of idea as to who to keep an eye on this week and just who needs to do what if they are to book their place at the 2014 Masters…