Sunday announces the start of the International Championship as the 64 qualifiers begin battle for the lucrative £125,000 winner’s cheque in Chengdu.
Its longer format provides the event with an added sense of prestige and one would assume that it’s only a matter of time before it is properly considered as the fourth major – behind the World and UK Championships, as well as the invitational Masters.
It’s only right that one of the Chinese tournaments should boast major status considering the increasing number of players that have emerged from the region, not to mention the fact that the country now hosts almost a third of the campaign’s competitions.
The 2014 edition will be missing a pair of the world’s best players, though, as defending champion Ding Junhui and world champion Mark Selby bowed out with surprising early exits in the qualifying round last month in Barnsley.
Ding lost in a decider to amateur countryman Wang Zepeng while world no.1 Selby surrendered a 4-0 lead to sensationally get beaten by rookie Oliver Lines 6-4.
That said, even without these two star performers there will be an abundance of talent on display over the course of the next week.
Five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is obviously the first man most people will be checking is in the draw or not.
On this occasion the 38 year-old decided to take part in one of the Far East tournaments and his reward for qualifying is a meeting with fellow Englishman Ben Woollaston.
O’Sullivan doesn’t have the greatest of track records in China, particularly in the last number of years, but having competed in a couple of tournaments in the last month and a half it would not be surprising to see him go on a long run.
The best of 11 frame format up until the semi-finals, where it gets increased to 17 frames before a 19-frame finale, should suit the ‘Rocket’ and he is due a big win – it has been almost a full year since his Masters success after all!
Elsewhere, there are several players who have been in good form of late and who will fancy their chances.
Stuart Bingham is looking for a hat-trick of titles in China following triumphs in the Shanghai Masters in September and last week’s Haining Open.
The 38 year-old could also benefit from the absence of Ding in his quarter of the draw, albeit he will potentially face long-term rival Mark Allen in the last 16 – another who has been playing well this season.
2012 champion Judd Trump might have been fancied to comfortably overcome his opening bout against Jimmy Robertson, but that was before the latter reached the semi-finals of the Haining Open.
Trump, the Australian Open champion, will still be expected to come through that, though, while Bulgarian Open winner Shaun Murphy, who has also been striking the ball confidently, faces Yu Delu and is another who may be grateful of Selby’s downfall later in the tournament.
Ireland’s Fergal O’Brien and Davis Morris are both in action against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh and Ricky Walden respectively, while legends Jimmy White and Peter Ebdon – two players with decent results in the last few weeks – face Barry Hawkins and Andrew Pagett.
A feast of snooker then in the week to come, something we all better get used to from now until the end of the season in May.