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Monday, 5 February, 2001, 13:02 GMT
The wizards of Wembley
BBC snooker commentator Clive Everton previews the 2001 Benson and Hedges Masters tournament at Wembley.
The Benson and Hedges Masters, according to Cliff Thorburn who won it three times in four years in the 1980s, is "The Big Daddy" after the World Championship.
While it does not offer world ranking points, because it is a restricted field invitational event, it does carry immense prestige and £650,000 in prize money.
Matthew Stevens starts his defence of the title on Sunday afternoon, but it would be no great surprise if Paul Hunter sends him straight back to Carmarthen.
Hunter comes to the Wembley Conference Centre with a final, a semi, and two quarters to show from the first five of the season's eight ranking events.
But Stevens has reached only one quarter in this period.
From 13-7 ahead, Stevens lost the Embassy World Championship final 18-16 to his fellow Welshman Mark Williams last spring and he has not really got going since.
He has lost four matches by the odd frame this season, most notably 9-8 to Fergal O'Brien in the Liverpool Victoria UK Championship from 7-2 and 45-0 ahead.
And last week, he went down 5-4 to Joe Perry in the Regal Welsh Open after leading 4-1.
On the other hand, he is too good a player for this poor run to last forever.
Ken Doherty, beaten 10-8 by Stevens in last year's Masters final, nevertheless provided its most indelible image, a 140 break which should have been converted into 147 by potting a routine black from its spot.
By missing it, he threw away the keys to the £80,000 Honda sports car on offer for a maximum.
But he was adamant that "missing the maximum doesn't hit us hard as losing the tournament2.
He said: "The title stands for a lot more than money. I think it's second only to the World Championship. It's bigger than the UK. It has a lot more history."
Doherty comes to Wembley with his confidence sky-high from beating Stephen Hendry, Williams and Hunter in the last three rounds to win the Regal Welsh Open.
His first opponent at Wembley is Anthony Hamilton, kept out of the early season tournaments by a broken wrist and still very short of wins and confidence.
In Cardiff last week, only Williams of snooker's 'Fab Four' reached the semi-finals, though even this enabled him to extend his lead at the top of the world rankings.
Like Hendry, John Higgins was a quarter-final loser and Ronnie O'Sullivan went out in the last 16.
But there is still every chance that a member of this quartet will be holding up the trophy in front of a sell-out crowd on Sunday 11 February.
They cannot all reach the semi-finals because Stevens as the holder is seeded number one.
This sets up a potential quarter-final between Hendry, who has not won a title for 17 months, and O'Sullivan, who has won three this season.
Steve Davis, who won the Masters as recently as four years ago, is neither among the top 16 in the rankings who are automatically invited, nor the recipient of the sponsors' discretionary wild card.
This has gone instead to Jimmy White, who plays Joe Swail - a semi-finalist in Cardiff last week - on Sunday evening.
Shaun Murphy, at 19 years of age an outstanding prospect, won the B&H satellite tournament at Malvern in November to earn a Masters debut.
He will open the tournament with a contest against Marco Fu on Sunday morning.
Benson and Hedges Masters draw
First round: Swail v White (Match 1), Fu v Murphy (Match 2)
Second round: Stevens v Hunter (Match A), Alan McManus v Peter Ebdon (B), O'Sullivan v Winner Match 1 (C), Hendry v Winner Match 2 (D), Higgins v Dave Harold (E), Stephen Lee v John Parrott (F), Doherty v Anthony Hamilton (G), Williams v Fergal O'Brien (H).
Quarter-finals: Winner Match A v Winner Match B (3), Winner Match C v Winner Match D, Winner Match E v Winner Match F, Winner G v Winner Match H
Semi-finals: Winner Match 3 v Winner Match 4 (J), Winner Match 5 v Winner Match 6 (K)
Final: Winner Match J v Winner Match K
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