Sunday marks the return of the International Championship – China’s most lucrative ranking event.
Daqing stages the tournament for a second occasion after its relatively successful initial outing 12 months ago.
While the week wasn’t a sellout by any stretch of the imagination, it was a marked improvement from the event’s previous three-year tenure in Chengdu – where, after the inaugural championship in 2012, attendances were pretty poor.
Since its inception, the International Championship has been marketed as a potential new major, a first outside England to add to the Triple Crown of the World, UK and Masters.
However, it’s safe to say that the event is still finding its shape on the calendar and it is yet to fully formulate itself as one of the most prestigious.
That ought to develop naturally with a little more time, though, as the foundations are in place for it to be regarded as an integral competition to enter and win.
This is certainly highlighted by the roster of champions already accumulated with Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Ricky Walden and John Higgins all having etched their names on the trophy.
A result of this is arguably the format, which is the longest on the calendar bar the World Championship, and the prodigious purse of prize money on offer.
The eventual champion will receive a cool £125,000 while the best of 11 frame guise up to the semi-finals, which in-turn increases to 17 frames before a 19-frame final, generally has separated the best from the rest.
Scotland’s Higgins is the defending champion after his success against David Gilbert in 2015, but his qualifying round match is one of four which was held over to the main venue next week.
World no.1 Mark Selby, Chinese favourite Ding Junhui and his compatriot Liang Wenbo, who of course superbly captured his maiden ranking event title at the English Open last Sunday, are the other three competitors forced to complete their round of 128 tie.
The majority of the rest of the field, who played their preliminary round in Preston a few weeks ago, are straight into the first round proper – although Ian Burns, Wang Yuchen, Ross Muir and Tian Pengfei are the unlucky quartet who have been thrown into the continuously unnecessary wildcard round.
The Guild Hall claimed a number of high-profile casualties, including the likes of former runner-up Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins, but the majority of the marquee names managed to book their flights to China.
In-form Judd Trump, winner of 14 matches in succession before his defeat to Liang in the final last week in Manchester, awaits the outcome of the wildcard clash between Burns and talented teenage amateur Yuan Sijun.
The 27 year-old makes his return to the event for the first time since 2014 after failing to qualify last year, so this will be his first bow in Daqing.
Likewise Ronnie O’Sullivan, who faces a tricky opening challenge in Xiao Guodong in his first International Championship encounter in two years.
The ‘Rocket’ has only a best of a quarter-final appearance in the event, making it arguably the biggest current trophy that the five-time world champion has failed to get his hands on.
Meanwhile, Australian Neil Robertson is up against young star Oliver Lines while world number four Shaun Murphy will do battle with Shoot-Out winner Robin Hull.
Ireland’s Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien both qualified but are tasked with difficult last 64 affairs against Ricky Walden and Graeme Dott respectively.
1997 world champion Doherty will be seeking a sizable payday to ease his world rankings woes at present.
One of the early ties to look out for is the duel between Indian Open champion Anthony McGill and Chinese Zhou Yuelong, a player regarded as one of the most up-and-coming on the tour.
The International Championship will be live on Eurosport and selected betting websites.
Categories: Snooker News