The penultimate world ranking event of the 2012/13 season gets under way today with the China Open in Beijing.
Peter Ebdon is the defending champion after a heroic effort saw him pip Stephen Maguire in last year’s final 10-9.
The encounter started off under dour circumstances with only six of the scheduled nine frames in the opening session being completed with several frames taking upwards of or even over an hour’s play.
But it greatly improved after the evening’s resumption and the English former world champion withstood a spirited Scottish fightback to stumble over the line for a ninth ranking event title – three years after his last and at the sprightly age of 41.
A year on and Ebdon’s form is not too dissimilar to what it was when he flew to the Far East last time – dismal.
He has won only once since November and it would be surprising to see him to reign supreme again – famous last words.
Despite being well outside the elite Top 16, as top seed, his first round opponent is against qualifier Marcus Campbell.
There are several intriguing contests early on, or should I say potential contests as eight of the qualifiers must yet overcome the ever-annoying presence of wildcards.
There is no need for me to repeat myself with regard this issue. In brief, using them in new tournaments in small snooker countries is A-OK to help develop the game there.
Using them in a country that boasts TV viewership figures of 100 million people is not so acceptable – especially when so many of these wildcards have tried and failed already when given these chances, or worse yet, failed on the Main Tour itself.
Anyway! Arguably the most exciting first round clash is already set in stone and that is the one between Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins.
Hawkins is a Top 16 player but was forced into the other side of the draw because of Ebdon and now has to face one of the in-form men of late.
Both of these players are ranking event champions from this campaign and are well capable of providing a humdinger of a spectacle if both are in the mood.
If young pretender Jack Lisowski can make his way past amateur Zhou Yuelong he will set up a mouth-watering tie with his friend, practice partner and world no.1 Judd Trump.
This time two years ago people were questioning Trump’s credentials as a much-fancied player who had at the time failed to make many substantial impressions.
Fellow Englishman Lisowski is in a similar position at the moment and could do with a good tournament to finish the season on a high.
Stuart Bingham could face home favourite Liang Wenbo if the latter beats countryman Lu Ning while Shaun Murphy and Andrew Higginson are also set to do battle.
Dubliner Ken Doherty ensured qualification with a 5-3 win over Dave Harold in January and his reward is a meeting with Ricky Walden – who himself has already won in China this season way back at the Wuxi Classic.
How long ago that was in this marathon of seasons.
This is it for all the players. April is fast approaching and that means only one thing.
With the World Championship just around the corner, the China Open will be as good a gauge as any as to who could challenge for top honours at The Crucible in 2913.
A good gauge, minus what Ronnie’ll do of course.
The draw for the China Open can be viewed by clicking here.