Snooker Returns with Riga Masters

Professional snooker returns after almost three weeks in the sunshine – well, for some at least – with the Riga Masters in Latvia.

Mark Selby and Mark Allen
Selby returns but Northern Ireland’s Allen opted out of this tournament – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Unfortunately, the first half of the season will have a very discontinuous feel to it as events are sporadically scheduled here and there throughout the summer and into autumn.

While many of the tournaments have changed, this still reflects a similar way in which the calendar has been devised in each of the last three campaigns.

Personally, I think more needs to be done in an attempt to rectify this as it’s impossible for players or fans to get into the early part of the season when there is no sense of flow.

Players who lost all three qualifying rounds at the end of May and earlier this month will not see further competitive action until the latter days of August.

Dealing with promoters’ demands and accommodating visa travel restraints are two of the biggest challenges facing the schedulers at World Snooker but this is hardly a new conundrum and there doesn’t seem to be much being done in the way of making the calendar more compact.

Anyway, for the foreseeable future it is what it is, and we’ll have a first trophy contested for since Mark Selby was crowned world champion for a second time in early May.

The world no.1 will of course be among the favourites to capture this largely best of seven event (final: best of nine) in the revamped European Tour.

In fact, Selby won the inaugural staging in 2014 when he denied Mark Allen in a decider before Barry Hawkins got his hands on the trophy last year.

Hawkins somewhat surprisingly opted not to defend his title but Selby qualified after a nervy encounter with Akani Songsermsawad in Preston and will begin his quest for glory in Latvia against Michael Holt.

The 33 year-old is the joint favourite with online bookmakers Betway at 11/2, alongside Australian Neil Robertson who faces Michael Georgiou.

Among the other big names in action will be Judd Trump and John Higgins, who take on Chris Wakelin and Mark King respectively.

Meanwhile, now that the pressure of being the current world champion has subsided, and all the media attention and public appearances that go alongside the status has passed, 2015 Crucible king Stuart Bingham will be hoping to get back to winning ways – with Lee Walker his first challenge.

Welshman Mark Williams is another big-name draw tasked with a tricky initial test in Mark Davis and, even though the 18-time ranking event winner thinks his best days are behind him, most others still believe there’s a trophy or two left in his locker.

Irish stalwarts Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien continue to fly the tricolour flag proudly, with the former in need of a solid season to avoid dropping outside of the top 64 in the world rankings.

Doherty faces Noppon Saengkham while his fellow Dubliner meets returning pro Adam Duffy, who was one of the graduates from last month’s Q-School.

An interesting subplot of the open draw has meant that there is guaranteed to be one of the amateur “top-ups” in the last 32.

Darren Morgan, winner of the recent European Open in Lithuania, plays Bradley Jones in one of the two qualifying round matches held over to the main venue, with Ben Woollaston’s surprise conqueror Adam Stefanow of Poland waiting the pair in the first round proper.

Indeed, there is a huge chance for any number of competitors in the top quarter of the draw to make an impression with no members of the top 16 inside the section.

It will also be interesting to see if the Chinese, of which there are nine left standing, can use Ding Junhui’s history-making run to the final of the World Championship as a platform for greater success for the nation during this campaign.

The Riga Masters starts on Wednesday and concludes on Friday evening when the champion, who will earn £37,500, is crowned.

Click here to view the draw.

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