News, Ranking, Tournaments

The China Open Preview

This week sees the traditional last stop in Beijing before all players board for the Sheffield express train.

Ding hasn't won a match in March - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.
Ding hasn’t won a match in March – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

The China Open gets under way on Monday with Ding Junhui as the defending champion.

The soon-to-be 28 year-old has endured a nightmare 12 months since his triumph in his home country last year.

At that time Ding had just won his record-equaling fifth ranking event of the season and was on his way to being Asia’s first world no.1.

However, the two-time UK Championship winner has challenged in hardly any tournaments since and has lost his last four Main Tour encounters.

There’s still time for Ding to salvage his season, particularly if he can emerge victorious in the one tournament that has so far eluded him – the World Championship at the Crucible – but he’ll be desperate to find some form before the trip back to England.

Ding faces Marcus Campbell in the opening round, a tie he would normally expect to win, but faces a potentially difficult last 32 clash with either Mark Davis or Kyren Wilson.

Worse still for the Chinese Sensation is that Mark Williams, arguably the most in-form competitor on the circuit at present, could await him at the subsequent stage.

Until last season, Ding largely struggled to perform in front of his legion of loyal supporters but that changed when he triumphed in the Shanghai Masters, International Championship and China Open.

He’ll be hoping that the crowd can influence his play positively once again as he attempts to regain his once seemingly invincible aura.

Ding’s primary challenge will come from the regular sources.

That is except for five-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan of course, who withdrew last week for “health reasons”.

The decision wasn’t necessarily surprising given that the 39 year-old’s demeanor and attitude in recent weeks appeared to somewhat of a throwback to his former unpredictable state.

His failure to fly east is potentially good news for Finland’s Robin Hull, though, who should he negotiate his dreaded wildcard round – there are four this year – will have a bye into the second round.

Hull is among those players battling to get inside the world’s top 64 before the end of the campaign and thus remain on the tour for next season.

With O’Sullivan absent, the likes of Judd Trump, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy will be considered as the primary favourites.

2011 champion Trump plays fellow Englishman Andrew Higginson first while Robertson, winner in 2013, faces Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng.

Runner-up both of those years was Selby, and his bid to go one better on this occasion starts with a bout against Mark Joyce while Murphy will do battle with 2007 finalist Jamie Cope.

Meanwhile, the fight for the final automatic World Championship place will come to a tense climax.

Williams’ run to the final of the Players Championship in Bangkok guaranteed him a return to the Crucible having painfully missed the 2014 edition, so the race is between Stephen Maguire, Michael White, Robert Milkins and Mark Davis.

In reality, one of the latter three really needs to win the tournament or at the very least reach the final and hope that Maguire, who holds the advantage at the moment, bows out of the competition early on.

The Scot, 2008’s victor, has Ireland’s David Morris for company in the last 64 so perhaps would have been hoping for a slightly easier starter.

The pair already met in the German Masters qualifiers this season with Maguire only just edging the contest in a 5-4 thriller.

Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien are the two other Irishmen in the draw with the 1997 world champion ironically taking on White, and his fellow Dubliner O’Brien tackling Mike Dunn.

The format returns to the best-of-nine frames this week and coverage is once again on Eurosport.

The full draw can be viewed by clicking here.

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