The Wuxi Classic gets under way on Monday as the 2012/13 campaign picks up pace with the first major ranking event of the season.
This week saw the first ranking points fought for with the inaugural staging of an Asian Players Tour Championship event, eventually won be Stuart Bingham.
Bingham has been the early form horse for the new season having already picked up a brace of trophies following his other success at the Pink Ribbon Pro-Am in Gloucester earlier in June.
At 36, ‘Ballrun’ enjoyed his breakthrough year on the Main Tour last season when he picked up the winners’ medal for the Australian Open after over 15 years as a professional.
This helped him join the Top 16 of the world rankings for the first time in his career and, despite struggling for much of the remainder of last year, he seems intent on proving his worth in the elite bracket.
Bingham takes on Peter Ebdon in the first round, the latter being the last person to win a ranking event in China after his amazing run to glory in Beijing last April.
The Wuxi Classic has been one of the most successful invitation tournaments of the last five years with many of the top stars entering it and the likes of home favourite Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby emerging as victorious.
This year the event was rewarded for its growth with an upgrade to a fully-fledged ranking tournament – one of an astonishing five that are going to be staged in the People’s Republic this season.
Despite this, two of the sport’s biggest stars in Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins will not be making the trip halfway around the world to compete.
World champion O’Sullivan has decided to take an indefinite break away from the circuit after refusing to sign the players’ contract at the outset of the campaign while John Higgins has openly admitted that he does not have the desire to compete week-in-week-out at both ends of the globe at this stage of his career.
Nonetheless, there is still an abundance of stars on offer with world no.1 Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Mark Williams and Stephen Maguire heading the line-up.
Of particular note will be to analyse the reception that Mark Allen receives on his return to China subsequent to his barrage of controversial comments about Chinese people and specifically their players at the tail end of last season.
As ever with the Chinese tournaments, there is the inclusion of the much loathed wildcard round, which enforces the eight lowest ranked qualifiers to play in an extra round effectively for free.
Both of Ireland’s cueists on the circuit this season, Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien, will both have to manoeuvre this obstacle if they are to progress further and into the business end of the week.
If they do, the two Dubliners will not face an easy task in the last 32 with Shaun Murphy and Crucible finalist Ali Carter their respective opponents.
Of the other qualifiers, it will be particularly interesting to note how Michael White performs on his ranking event venue stage debut – the Welshman widely tipped as being one of the stars of the future and definitely a player to look out for over the course of the next ten months or so.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.
NOTE: I am going on holiday for a week and the site will therefore not be updated for the majority of the Wuxi Classic. Bad timing I know, but even bloggers need a bit of sun…