The inaugural China Championship came to an appropriate conclusion on Saturday with John Higgins pocketing the mammoth cheque in Guangzhou.
Not only did the Scot overcome an elite field to win the lucrative invitational and collect £200,000 – the biggest prize ever awarded outside the UK – Higgins duly managed to complete the feat in stunning style.
Compiling a hat-trick of tons to pull away from seven frames each in a thrilling battle with Stuart Bingham and prevail 10-7 was a fitting climax to what was an entertaining new event in China.
The venue, near neighbouring Hong Kong where snooker also thrives, attracted large and enthusiastic crowds throughout the week.
This may seem like stating the obvious, but it’s vital not to underestimate the importance of a packed arena which can generate that additional atmosphere which enhances any sport’s level of entertainment and drama.
A tournament like the previous week’s International Championship may wish to garner a prestigious presence, but its failure to put enough bums on seats ensures that its approval rating from the armchair fan remains lower than it should be.
The success of the China Championship will hopefully convince organisers to remain with the current format, rather than enforce a proposed change which will transform the tournament into a formulaic ranking event involving the Main Tour’s 128 players – although this writer believes that chance to be highly unlikely.
China, which already boasts four other ranking events, can benefit from an annual Masters style competition which can guarantee the participation of the world’s leading players.
One only has to look at the success of another distinguished invitational which gets under way on Monday in Coventry.
The Ricoh Arena will stage the Champion of Champions for a fourth year, with live coverage again readily accessible via ITV4.
Higgins had already guaranteed his place in the stellar 16-man field after Marco Fu’s unexpected withdrawal a couple of days ago, but of course his triumph yesterday was an appropriate way to rubber stamp his inclusion.
The Champion of Champions invites winners of tournaments contested over the last 12 or so months, albeit Stuart Bingham and Joe Perry make up the field as the highest ranked competitors not already registered as trophy holders from that period.
Neil Robertson returns as the defending champion following his triumph last year when he beat Mark Allen 10-5 to earn £100,000.
The Champion of Champions is unique in the sense that, although the draw takes the shape of a usual last 16 line-up, each of the first four days will comprise a mini group of four players in which one semi-finalist will ultimately be determined at the end of each day’s play.
On Monday then, two-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan kicks off proceedings against Robin Hull, who is featuring in Coventry for the first time after his Shoot-Out triumph in February.
Martin Gould and Mark Davis follow that tie in another short best of seven encounter, with the two winners progressing to face each other across 11 frames in the evening session.
Robertson begins his defence on Tuesday against Bingham, who has featured in a semi-final or better in each of the last five events he has participated in.
That Bingham failed to qualify through achieving a champion’s status would perhaps make it all the more ironic if he could finally land a first title since his 2015 World Championship victory next Saturday.
Also in Robertson and Bingham’s section are Ding Junhui and Ali Carter, making it arguably the toughest of the four mini groups.
That said, it’ll be similarly difficult to predict the outcome from Thursday’s section, which boasts Higgins, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump and Anthony McGill.
41 year-old Higgins will be glad of a few days off after his landmark victory on Saturday, but meets a Murphy who has been threatening of late to break through with a big week.
Before that, world champion Mark Selby and Liang Wenbo clash on Wednesday in a repeat of their thriller in Daqing a fortnight ago while Joe Perry challenges a rejuvenated Mark Allen.
With entrants of this quality it is always going to be tricky to pick a winner, but looking at the draw there could be a strong case made for the ‘Rocket’ finally finding his form as he lands back on home soil.
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