The Shanghai Masters gets under way tomorrow as China prepares to host its second ranking event of the season.
Ricky Walden somewhat surprisingly took the spoils in the campaign’s opener in Wuxi and indeed the Englishman is a former Shanghai Masters champion as well, signifying an evident love for playing in the Far East nation.
The Englishman will be way down the list of favourites, though, as the main contenders have now firmly warmed into the new season.
World no.1 Mark Selby goes into the tournament as the defending champion and is in good form having lifted the Paul Hunter Classic trophy at the end of last month.
The ‘Jester from Leicester’ begins his defence with a tricky tie against Jamie Cope, who has performed a little bit more consistently over the course of this summer.
On his day, Cope can be a devastating scorer but his temperament is questionable on occasion so it will be imperative he gets off to a decent start.
This week will be the last ranking event not to include world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, who will be in China in November for the inaugural, and lucrative, International Championship.
Nonetheless, there’s plenty of other players who will challenge Selby’s reign in Shanghai.
One of whom is John Higgins, who does return for his first ranking event of the season after opting to sit out the opening pair.
Higgins has openly admitted that he neither has the stamina nor drive nowadays to compete in an 11-month season.
But despite a poor run of form since he claimed his fourth world title in 2011, the Scot can never be written off completely and it will be interesting to see how much practice he has put in upon his return – his patchy form in the last few PTC events would suggest not enough.
Judd Trump hasn’t truly found his range either this year but as the season gathers pace it would not be surprising to see the 23 year-old generate some momentum of his own.
Yet, his initial task isn’t an easy one as he must withstand the challenge of Barry Hawkins, the most recent ranking event champion following his success Down Under.
The match of the opening round is undoubtedly the meeting between Stephen Maguire and Peter Ebdon, a repeat of their China Open final in April that the latter clinched by the odd frame.
The winner of that match will find himself in arguably the easiest quarter of the draw so a route to the semi-finals could potentially be on the cards.
Of the Irish interest, only Fergal O’Brien managed to book his flight but, as one of the eight lowest ranked qualifiers, the Dubliner will have to get past wildcard Chen Feilong before joining the last 32 proper, where he would eventually play Australian Neil Robertson.
O’Brien has been in a rather rich vein of form lately and could fancy his chances of a rare run to the business end of a big tournament.
To view the full draw click here.