Jamie Cope knocked Neil Robertson out of the Australian Open as only seven of the top 16 seeds made it into the second round of the Shanghai Masters.
There were high-profile exits for Barry Hawkins, Stephen Maguire and Marco Fu over the course of the first two days of action, while former champion Ricky Walden withdrew following the birth of his first child.
Then on Wednesday came the announcement that world no.1 Mark Selby had too pulled out after the death of his father-in-law.
With so many top players out or absent, it would have been seen as a big opportunity for a lot of the marquee players to go on a deep run in the event.
Yet, despite reversing a 3-0 deficit against Cope to take a 4-3 advantage over the Englishman, Robertson eventually fell to the two-time ranking event runner-up in the decider.
Cope has endured a nightmare handful of years since the heady days of those finals, plagued by poor form and illness, and even dropped outside of the top 64 at the end of the last campaign.
However, the 30 year-old regained his tour card via the European Order of Merit and has been a much-improved force so far this season.
It’s nice to see because Cope, known as the ‘Shotgun’ for his quick and attacking brand of snooker, always has had the ability to be a regular contender at the business end of tournaments.
It will be interesting to see if he can back this triumph up with another over a former world champion, as he faces Mark Williams for a place in the quarter-finals in China.
Williams compiled a brace of tons as he comfortably outgunned Tom Ford 5-1 while Shaun Murphy narrowly avoided an early trip home himself by coming from 4-1 down to pip Peter Ebdon 5-4.
Meanwhile, 2014 runner-up Mark Allen came through a difficult test against Belgium’s Luca Brecel, who knocked in a superb 140 total clearance to lead the high break standings so far.
Northern Ireland’s Allen had breaks of 101, 79 and 64 of his own, though, as he established a 3-0 advantage and, despite a spirited comeback from his young opponent, held on to reach the last 16.
Elsewhere, Kyren Wilson shocked Joe Perry 5-2 and Mark Davis got the better of Michael White for his eighth victory over the Welshman in eight meetings – a quite unbelievable record considering White’s growing stature in the game.
It’s difficult to understand exactly why so many of the top players have failed to perform in Shanghai so far.
One argument will be that the quality of the qualifiers coming through is a lot higher than in previous seasons, which probably is a factoring element.
Of course, the unexpected withdrawals of Walden and Selby also contribute greatly.
An additional and plausible conclusion to arrive at, though, is the impact that the start to the 2015/16 season, which has seen so many breaks in serious competition, has had.
Regardless of how much practice they have been putting in, players are rusty – which is a bit of a ridiculous situation to be in considering the campaign is into its fourth month.
That said, with the likes of Murphy, Stuart Bingham, John Higgins, Ding Junhui and Judd Trump remaining in contention, it still wouldn’t be a surprise to see one of the usual pretenders raising the trophy aloft come Sunday evening.
Categories: Snooker News