With the completion of the China Open on Sunday comes the sobering realisation that the World Championship is finally upon us.
The last 32 at the Crucible doesn’t commence for another 12 days but this Wednesday sees the start of the dreaded qualifiers at Ponds Forge in Sheffield.
Three victories are required to earn one of the 16 coveted spots that remain available.
Among those who missed out on automatic qualification by finishing outside the elite top 16 in the rankings are Shanghai Masters champion Kyren Wilson, this season’s ranking event finalists David Gilbert, Liang Wenbo and Luca Brecel, and of course China’s Ding Junhui.
29 year-old Ding is tasked with having to qualify for the sport’s blue riband championship for the first time in nine years after being pipped to 16th in the rankings by a last gasp run to the semi-finals in Beijing for Stephen Maguire.
The idea of Ding not featuring at the Crucible would have been laughable this time two years ago, when he won his home event to capture a record-equaling fifth ranking event title in a single season.
However, despite a mini-resurgence in the last couple of months, overall his form since has been dreadful and he can only have himself to blame for the situation that he finds himself in.
There’s still time to rectify the situation and, with the format increased to best of 19 frames, Ding will surely still be favourite to progress – but nothing is a guarantee in what every year transpires to be arguably the most pressurised battle for wins on the entire calendar.
Everyone wants to end the campaign by competing at the Crucible.
The likes of Ken Doherty, Jimmy White and Steve Davis will also be in action – the latter playing in memory of his late father Bill, who passed away last week at the age of 89 and was always a staunch supporter of the ‘Nugget’.
Ireland’s David Morris will be seeking the wins that he needs to ensure that he doesn’t drop off the tour by falling outside the top 64 in the world rankings, while Josh Boileau, the European Under-21 champion, will get his first taste of a World Championship after being invited as one of the 16 top-up WPBSA invitees.
Hong Kong’s Ng On Yee is also in the draw as the World Ladies champion.
This period is the most exciting for any snooker player and fan as, over the course of the next 28 days, we’ll see 144 competitors sweat it out to become the 2016 Betfred World Champion.
The draw for the qualifiers will be made live on World Snooker’s Official YouTube channel.