Four weeks ago, Ronnie O’Sullivan lifted the World Championship trophy for the fourth time in his career.
In years gone past, we would have had to have waited three or four months, sometimes more, for the beginning of the new season.
Yet, less than a month following the ‘Rocket’s’ triumph in Sheffield the snooker fraternity returns to the City of Snooker for the qualifiers of the Wuxi Classic – the Main Tour’s latest ranking event member.
It may be some time yet before we see O’Sullivan on our screens as the 36 year-old is expected to take a prolonged spell away from the game.
A lot of people have speculated as to when the former world no.1 may return but I’d be surprised, Premier League nights aside, if Ronnie is fighting on the baize in ranking terms before the Shanghai Masters in September.
With so many tournaments on the calendar nowadays – there are currently 23 events that carry ranking points scheduled for the next 11 months – seasoned players like O’Sullivan and John Higgins, for example, have the luxury of picking and choosing the venues they want to attend.
The prestige of a ranking position isn’t as important to these legends as it once was and they would be content with challenging for the major titles rather than endure the slog of protecting their status in, say, the world’s top 8.
In contrast, others like Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy strive under those conditions and will more than likely play in the majority of the tournaments.
For those lower down the rankings, there isn’t really an option but to play in as many events as possible.
The ranking system and tournament structure is still set up in a way that rewards those who can break into each block of 16 players on the circuit.
Those ranked between 17 and 32 only have one qualifying encounter to manoeuvre in order to reach a venue in major ranking tournaments, while those that fall within 33 and 48 require two matches, and so on.
It goes without saying that the difference between having a certain amount of games to qualify and being forced to add an extra one is mammoth – particularly given the fact that prize money is still very low in the doldrums of the qualifying cubicles.
This, of course, is changing. Prize money is increasing and there’ll be more than £7million in the kitty this year.
Formats for tournaments are also altering with the Welsh and German Opens trialling structures that will actually reflect their names – open! – with players ranked higher having to enter at an earlier stage.
It will be interesting to see, in particular, how these two tournaments are carried out because, if the game is to achieve its global ambition, this is the kind of direction it will have to move in.
While it was disappointing to see almost all of the dozen qualifiers from Q-School hail from England – Welshman Daniel Wells and Chen Zhe of China were the only other international players – the introduction of the Asian Players Tour Championship series should increase the amount of newcomers developing from that area.
Why all three had to be staged in China is beyond me – surely Thailand or especially India could have been utilised – but it finally offers Asian (Chinese) amateurs the opportunity to sink their teeth into the competitive atmosphere of a professional environment.
Yes, you can argue that the Chinese ranking events, of which there’ll be a record five this season, always provide the nonsense wildcard round for local players but that is essentially a pick ‘n’ mix.
The APTCs will be a chance for any talented amateur across the region to gain invaluable experience.
These are just a couple of things to look out for over the course of the new season, indeed there are so many things to discuss – some, if not all, of which will be dealt with on SnookerHQ during another action-packed campaign.
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Rack ’em up boys!