The Indian Open gets under way in Mumbai on Tuesday.
The eighth ranking event of the campaign comes with just over a month until the season-ending World Championship at the Crucible in Sheffield.
With the bigger names, including Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Neil Robertson, not making the trip to Asia, it is a decent opportunity for one of the lesser known competitors to enjoy a rare deep run into the business end.
That said, China’s Ding Junhui has returned to defend the title he won in 2013 and will be hoping to rediscover the form that saw him claim five ranking trophies last season, while the likes of Judd Trump, John Higgins and Mark Williams also provide dangerous opposition.
The tournament, though, has taken a significant blow with fifth and sixth seeds Marco Fu and Ali Carter both withdrawing due to visa problems, which in-turn is good news for Stuart Carrington and Mark Joyce who both ease into the last 32.
As is customary for the newer ranking events, particularly in Asia, there is a wildcard round featuring six of India’s best amateurs up against half a dozen unlucky pros who qualified but are now enforced to contest an extra encounter.
The stand-out of these ties is without doubt the return of Pankaj Advani, who of course gave up his professional status at the start of the season to concentrate on his billiards career.
Advani is a genuine star name in India and, even though he comes into this event as an amateur, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him perhaps repeat his run to the quarter-finals in the inaugural staging of the event last season.
Indeed, following the previous withdrawal of Barry Hawkins at the qualifiers, the 29 year-old’s quarter of the draw isn’t all that bad and he’ll be hoping to entertain his legion of fans for as long as possible.
Meanwhile, countryman Aditya Mehta, who was runner-up to Ding in 2013, has Mark King for company in the first round before a potential clash with International Championship winner Ricky Walden.
On the Irish front, World Seniors Championship finalist Fergal O’Brien takes on the in-form Luca Brecel, who just turned 20 a few days ago.
Fellow Dubliner Ken Doherty is involved in an intriguing all-Ireland clash with Joe Swail while Kilkenny cueist David Morris faces David Gilbert.
The tournament has a very Players Championship feel to it with all of the rounds up until the final only best-of-seven frames, with Sunday’s showpiece just best-of-nine.
This hasn’t gone down well with many supporters of the sport but it’s better to have an event in India, where the game could thrive in the future, rather than no event at all.
Ideally the format would be longer but, for now, it is arguably more important to ensure that these newer initiatives simply get off the ground and become established.
Regardless, with 50,000 pounds for the champion, all of those competing will be taking the sprint very seriously indeed.
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