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Maguire and Ding get Masters wild cards

UK champion Stephen Maguire and Chinese ace Ding Junhui have been awarded wild cards for the Masters at Wembley a few days after the Malta Cup at the Hilton Hotel between January 13 and February 6.

Maguire will play fellow Scot Graeme Dott in the opening round of snooker's most prestigious invitation event on February 13.

Ding faces an all-Asian tie against Hong Kong's Marco Fu on February 14.

Glasgow's 23-year-old Maguire has made vast strides to the top of the sport within the last nine months. He won the European Open in Malta in March, his first major title, and has made a tremendous start to the current season.

After reaching the final of the British Open, losing to John Higgins, he went one better at the UK Championship in York, beating David Gray 10-1 in the final.

Maguire has beaten Ronnie O'Sullivan twice this season, prompting the latter to suggest that he could "rule the game for the next ten years." This will be Maguire's first appearance at the Masters.

Ding made his Wembley debut last year and hit the headlines by knocking out Joe Perry. He took a 5-2 lead over Stephen Lee in the next round, only to lose 6-5.

The 17-year-old from Shanghai is one of snooker's most gifted teenagers and is leading a new wave of players to emerge from the Far East. Ding, a former world U-21 champion, reached the last 16 of the British Open last month, beating the likes of Tony Drago who slipped to no.34 in the provisional rankings after starting the season at no.22.

The Masters runs from February 13 to 20.

Paul Hunter will be defending his title and will battle for the trophy against the likes of O'Sullivan, Higgins, Stephen Hendry, Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Steve Davis and People's Champion Jimmy White.

The next ranking tournament before the Malta Cup is the Welsh Open which starts on January 7.

Provisional top 16

1. Ronnie O'Sullivan; 2. Stephen Hendry; 3. Stephen Maguire; 4. Paul Hunter; 5. Joe Perry; 6. John Higgins; 7. Jimmy White; 8. Peter Ebdon; 9. Stephen Lee; 10. Matthew Stevens; 11. Graeme Dott; 12. Mark Williams; 13. Mark King; 14. David Gray; 15. Barry Pinches; 16. Alan McManus.

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