The biggest event of the season so far gets under way on Monday with the Shanghai Masters in China.
Now in its tenth edition since Dominic Dale won the inaugural staging back in 2007, the Shanghai Masters is one of the most keenly contested and respected ranking events on the calendar.
Dale didn’t manage to qualify on this occasion but each of the other previous eight champions are in the running for the £85,000 winner’s cheque – including a certain Ronnie O’Sullivan.
The ‘Rocket’ makes his first return to competitive action since losing to Barry Hawkins in the second round of the World Championship in April.
O’Sullivan awaits the winner of the wildcard encounter between Liang Wenbo and Hu Hao – one of eight wildcard round matches which unfortunately once again precedes the first round proper.
Should O’Sullivan face Liang it would mark a repeat of the 2009 final which the former emerged victorious in with a 10-5 scoreline.
Many had remarked with some surprise about the 40 year-old’s inclusion in this tournament considering his general disdain for competing outside the UK in recent years.
However, perhaps he had heard whispers prior to the announcement today of a new invitational event in China this November in which the top 10 in the world rankings – O’Sullivan is currently no.11 – plus six other guests will feature in the most lucrative event ever to be staged outside Britain.
On the other hand, O’Sullivan is maybe just making good on his promise post Crucible exit that he would compete more frequently on the tour this season.
Either way, despite his long absence the five-time world champion is still the 10/3 favourite with Paddy Power snooker betting to land his 29th career ranking event next Sunday.
Elsewhere, all the heavy hitters are understandably present, especially considering this is one of only two remaining events which protects the top 16 in the rankings until the last 32.
Defending champion Kyren Wilson will meet the winner of the wildcard clash between Michael Holt and Xu Si while world no.1 Mark Selby potentially faces a tricky tie with German Masters winner Martin Gould.
Home hero and 2013 champion Ding Junhui, who must be buzzing with confidence after his success in the 6 Red World Championship last week, takes on Scott Donaldson with a potential encounter against Mark Allen or Anthony McGill to follow.
Shaun Murphy recently became a father for the first time so his focus and match sharpness may not be at its usual peak, albeit he faces the probable task of a date with old foe Stephen Maguire.
Meanwhile, Judd Trump, who seems to be many people’s favourite for this event, takes on Ben Woollaston.
Trump and O’Sullivan have both been kept busy lately on the exhibition circuit thanks to their Eleven 30 Series, which ended in three wins apiece but apparently the latter won due to a greater centuries count.
The pair is due to meet in the semi-finals in Shanghai, which would also be played over the best of 11 frames so perhaps would be a fitting way to round off their little run together.
Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Stuart Bingham and World Open champion Ali Carter all feature in the bottom half of the draw which, in truth, is from top to bottom completely loaded with around a dozen or so potential winners.
Action, for a pleasant change this campaign, will be live on Eurosport television.
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