The hectic snooker schedule continues today as the 2013 UK Championship gets under way at the Barbican Centre in York.
The flat 128-player draw that was newly introduced for most of the ranking events this season means that the tournament this year will be 13 days long.
This is quite a significant change, resulting in all of the top 16 players entering the fray from the outset in the sport’s second biggest major.
Furthermore, it means that defending champion Mark Selby will have to win two extra matches should he reign supreme again in Yorkshire.
Selby, whose career earnings total nearly £2m said of the new format, “It makes it just that bit harder but obviously I’ll be trying my best to defend it. I remember it really well from last year and I suppose I always will with this being the second biggest date in the calendar.”
“There are a lot of great players around playing fantastic snooker. Ronnie, Ding and Neil Robertson look like the ones to beat in York. Some of the others may be struggling but the top players always seem to raise their game for the big tournaments.”
The quartet of Selby, Robertson, Ding and O’Sullivan will undoubtedly go into proceedings as the primary favourites.
Selby has begun to show signs of improvement in his form over the past couple of weeks after capturing the Antwerp Open title and making the semi-finals of the Champion of Champions.
Robertson also reached that stage in Coventry, narrowly losing to the ‘Rocket’ in a decider, and the world no.1 has compiled a staggering 50 centuries already with the campaign only half complete.
Ding also lost to O’Sullivan by the odd frame in the West Midlands but is bidding to continue his remarkable run in ranking events having been successful in all of the last three – in Shanghai, New Dehli and Chengdu.
It is O’Sullivan, though, who all of them must still overcome.
What was perhaps most worrying about his triumph at the weekend was that he didn’t perform to the peak of his ability, yet still won.
That the 37 year-old can win using his B or even C-game will send clear warning signs to all the players as to what will happen should his A-game reappear.
That said, in the past O’Sullivan hasn’t often won big tournaments in quick succession, usually finding it difficult to hone his concentration for such a concerted long time.
It is for this reason that I think it’s a distinct possibility that he won’t be the man holding the trophy on Sunday week.
It has to be noted, though, that Ronnie’s potential run to the semi-finals is rather favourable.
A possible quarter-final opponent could be Stuart Bingham, who he just beat in the final of the CofC, or Marco Fu, a player who actually has a pretty good record against O’Sullivan with eight wins and three draws from 24 meetings.
Considering there are seven matches to win in order to be crowned champion – best of 11 for all rounds up until the last four – it might be he who can save the most energy early on who will give himself the best chance.
Exerting too much energy in close encounters during the opening few rounds could prove fatal come the business end of the tournament when the test of the challengers will surely become even stiffer.
It will be an exhausting tournament overall with a mammoth 127 important ties to be decided in the next couple of weeks.
This year’s UK Championship promises to be another entertaining affair and TV coverage begins this Saturday on the BBC and Eurosport.
The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.