THE bookmakers may have been in for a few shocks at the Masters so far this week, but Ronnie O’Sullivan has been far from surprised by results.
In only one of the opening six matches of the Alexandra Palace tournament did the favourite prevail, with world number one Judd Trump and UK Championship winner Ding Junhui both felled early on.
But O’Sullivan, who withdrew from the tournament back in December to make way for another underdog, Ali Carter - himself downing Mark Selby in the first round - believes that the results merely highlight the closing gap in quality in the upper echelons of the game.
“All week I’ve said that I’m not really totally surprised by the matches,” he said.
“I know that everyone would assume that the favourite’s going to get through, but I do believe that the competition these days is much more competitive than it probably was when Hendry was at his best.
“I think he was streets ahead of everybody and could probably get away with playing at 50%, whereas a lot of players these days - you have ones that you would slightly favour if they’re on their game, but if they’re slightly off and the underdog’s slightly on his game, then I would always go for the underdog.
“Especially in this tournament, because you’re talking about the top 16 and there really isn’t a lot between them these days.”
And with the draw opening up with the favourites cast aside, there could well be a new winner lifting the Paul Hunter Trophy on Sunday - although Ronnie urged the young upstarts not to get ahead of themselves.
“Now you have a different scenario, a different dynamic comes in,” he continued.
“There’s a lot of pressure on these guys because they’ve seen a lot of the top guys go out - Trump, Ding, Selby - now all of a sudden from not fancying to win it they’re thinking that this might be their chance.
“You might start seeing players crumbling where they’re thinking that ‘this is my opportunity, my best chance to win a Masters’, so it will be interesting to see how that develops.
“You look at someone like Williams, Bingham, that are proven and have won tournaments, that possibly could be favourite to win it now.”
Watch the London Masters LIVE on Eurosport and Eurosport Player with analysis from Ronnie O'Sullivan, Jimmy White and Neal Foulds.