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Last Updated: Friday, 30 January, 2004, 21:48 GMT
Williams targets hat-trick
World number one Mark Williams
LIVE Masters snooker
Sunday, BBC Two, 1440
The Masters, one of the biggest events on the snooker calendar, gets underway on Sunday with 18 of the world's top players setting their sights on the 100,000 first prize.

The invitation event consists of 18 players: the world's top 16 ranked players plus two wild cards - Australia's Neil Robertson who came through the qualifying competition, and 16-year-old Chinese prodigy Ding Junhu.

One of the most dangerous players in the draw will be world number one and defending champion Mark Williams who is hunting his third Masters title after victories in 1998 and 2003.

Williams, who starts his defence against fellow Welshman Matthew Stevens on Sunday, will not have things his own way with most of the sport's other stars hitting top form at the right time.

Chief among those challengers will be Ronnie O'Sullivan, fresh from his thrilling 9-8 defeat of Steve Davis in the Welsh Open.

O'Sullivan, the youngest-ever winner of the tournament after his 1995 triumph as a 19-year-old, looked back to his best in Cardiff with a battling performance backed up his trademark flowing breaks.

Crowd favourite Jimmy White
White can never be discounted at the major tournaments
Perennial crowd favourite Jimmy White will be hoping to give his army of fans plenty to shout about as he looks to repeat his win of 1984.

"The Masters is a big part of snooker for me," said White.

"Being a Londoner, it's my home tournament. I love playing at Wembley and I always get great support there."

The 16-year-old Ding - former winner of the Asian Under-21 and senior titles - has already beaten the likes of Marco Fu and Mark Williams in the Euro-Asia Masters Challenge and will be a major obstacle to world number 16 Joe Perry's ambitions.

"It's a great thrill for me to be playing at Wembley in the Masters," said Ding.

"Since I first started watching snooker, I have dreamed of competing in the tournament."

Paul Hunter is also on the search for a third Wembley title following his back-to-back triumphs in 2001 and 2002 and he starts his campaign against young Londoner David Gray on Monday.

The tournament will also see Michaela Tabb become the first female referee to take charge at the Masters.

Snooker referee Michaela Tabb
Tabb will add another chapter to her refereeing CV
Tabb, who caused a stir at last year's World Championship, will referee two matches, including the meeting between Steve Davis and Ken Doherty on Tuesday.

"I'm really looking forward to refereeing at the Masters for the first time," said Tabb.

"I know the atmosphere at Wembley is electric and it will be great to experience that."

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