The inaugural Australian Goldfields Open will get under way on Monday but the new event has already been clouded with the withdrawal of Ronnie O’Sullivan.
World Snooker announced today that the fan favourite made it all the way to Bangkok in his journey Down Under but subsequently experienced neck and back pain so decided to turn back.
Without doubt, it is a shame for all concerned that ‘The Rocket’ is not going to be in Bendigo next week, especially given the fact that he is obviously in better form following his victory in PTC 1 last month.
Nevertheless, it cannot come as a huge surprise that this revelation has materialised as his attendance at tournaments throughout the last number of years has been patchy, especially for those that are staged outside Britain.
Tournament organisers will be ruing their luck, though, as the box office pandemonium that O’Sullivan offers a tournament is now lost.
Earlier this week, Graeme Dott also fell casualty of medical concerns – similarly citing neck spasms after he felt pain during the Wuxi Classic at the beginning of July.
It means that Australian brothers Steve and James Mifsud, who were due to play wildcard rounds, have now been bumped up to a guaranteed place in the last 32.
Steve, who partnered Neil Robertson for the World Cup, will take Ronnie’s place in facing Dominic Dale while sibling James’ encounter with David Gilbert is now effectively a first round clash as Dott’s absence ensures whoever emerges victorious will enjoy a walkover into the last 16.
Despite the withdrawals of the two former world champions, there is still an excellent line-up in Victoria for the first ranking event of the season.
The usual pretenders will be the men to watch – world champion John Higgins, world number one Mark Williams, home favourite Robertson as well as Mark Selby, Ding Junhui, Judd Trump and a host of others.
The two drop-outs have left the bottom quarter of the draw exposed, allowing an easier passage, on paper, to the quarter-finals for Williams and Robertson.
Arguably the ties of the first round are Mark Allen’s match with Ryan Day and the pairing of inconsistent cueists Stephen Maguire and 1997 world champion Ken Doherty.
Northern Ireland’s Allen has suffered both at work and privately during 2011 but has appeared in buoyant mood alongside partner Gerard Greene at the World Cup in Thailand while Day has equally shown a return to some form recently.
By contrast, Doherty performed poorly this week for Ireland but, with his extended family being Australians, the Dubliner may find himself in a more positive frame of mind.
Despite the unfortunate announcements, the Australian Open still promises to be a fantastic addition to the snooker calendar.
It will mark the first occasion that an official ranking event will be held in the country – a tournament was scheduled in 1989 but had to be relocated to Hong Kong.
A large part of this is attributable to Robertson, who became only the third player from outside of the United Kingdom to win the World Championship in Sheffield in 2010.
It will be intriguing to see the level of support that the event is able to garner as the sport has experienced varying degrees of enthusiasm in foreign lands over the last year – Germany being the pinnacle while Thailand this week has left a lot to be desired.
Whatever the outcome the ranking events are upon us and, despite the fact we are still in the middle of the summer, it is now that the new campaign ignites.