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Ronnie O'Sullivan's desire remains high in pursuit of Masters hat-trick

Barry Hawkins best bet to face Rocket in final

Ronnie O'Sullivan has won back-to-back Masters titles
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At the age of 42, Ronnie O'Sullivan is still very much the man to beat on the green baize and it's difficult to see beyond him in this year's Masters.

Rightly heading the market at 5-2, he has shown a noticeable desire - along with plenty of application - already this season and has clearly set his sights on plenty more titles as well as a number of records.

The Rocket, who has been in sensational form this season, clinched a record-breaking seventh Masters crown at Alexandra Palace a year ago and should be raring to go in north London.

A sublime win in the English Open in October sparked a run which saw O'Sullivan then reach the final of the Champion of Champions before claiming further title successes in the Shanghai Masters and the UK Championship last month.

The world number two has already participated in nine tour events this season, which is one more than his preparation last year, with a clear hunger for success and the pursuit of milestones evident as he hunts down his 1,000th century break.

He withdrew from the German Masters before Christmas following his flurry of triumphs, and that has provided him with four weeks to prepare for his bid to land a third successive Masters crown and a fourth in five years.

Still the principal crowd-puller, the Rocket can rely on plenty of vocal support at Alexandra Palace and it is certainly an environment he thrives in.

O'Sullivan's first-round opponent, Marco Fu, is having a terrible time this season and the Hong Kong player may provide little resistance when the two meet on Tuesday afternoon.

Old nemesis John Higgins could prove the biggest obstacle at the semi-final stage should both progress as expected through the weaker top half of the draw. The pair have already met five times this season with O'Sullivan the victor on four of those occasions.

Kent-based potter Barry Hawkins could be the man to emerge from the wide-open bottom half of the draw and face O'Sullivan in what would be a rerun of the 2016 final.

The Hawk had a dire Masters record until two years ago, but he has made at least the semi-finals in the last two seasons.

Three times a ranking-event winner, Hawkins has traditionally saved his best snooker for after the Christmas break, which is also highlighted by his fine Crucible record since reaching the final in 2014.

Hawkins has established himself among the elite and has shown he is able to cope under the most intense pressure, a key attribute which will be needed in this one-table format.

There are big question marks over some of the big names Hawkins may need to see off in London. Judd Trump landed the European Masters in October but has since struggled for consistency, while Champion of Champions victor Shaun Murphy and world champion Mark Selby are respected but have tricky first-round draws.

Recommendations
R O'Sullivan
3pts 5-2 general
B Hawkins
1pt each-way 28-1 Betfred, BoyleSports, Sky Bet


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Still the principal crowd-puller, the Rocket can rely on plenty of vocal support at Alexandra Palace and it is certainly an environment he thrives in
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