The 2017 Masters concluded under 48 hours ago but the busy season quickly continues today with the China Open qualifiers in Preston.
The top 16 players in the world rankings were in action at the Alexandra Palace last week but, for the majority of the rest of the tour members, going to the Guild Hall represents the first piece of snooker action since the Scottish Open before Christmas.
It is really from this point on in the campaign that many of the competitors will begin to desperately find their form, with several key cut-off points on the horizon.
The China Open itself doesn’t take place until the end of March but, as the penultimate ranking event this term, it will be the last counting tournament before the seeding for the World Championship is determined.
As such, practically all of the 128 professionals have entered the qualifiers, albeit six amateurs including Peter Lines and Andy Hicks do make up the numbers.
The most high-profile name not in attendance is Neil Robertson, with the Australian presumably opting out as he wants to stay fresh ahead of a Crucible challenge in April – a decision which worked a treat for Mark Selby in 2016.
Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen is staying at home as well, although his choice isn’t as surprising given his love-hate relationship with travelling to foreign tournaments.
World no.1 Selby and defending champion Judd Trump, along with top Chinese duo Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo, have all had their initial encounters held over to the venue stage.
For the rest, a single best of nine fixture stands between them and a spot on the plane to Beijing, where £85,000 will be at stake for the eventual champion.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, fresh from his 10-7 triumph over Joe Perry in the Masters final on Sunday, takes on James Cahill on Thursday and should he qualify it’ll be the first time the ‘Rocket’ will compete at the China Open since 2012.
Elsewhere, John Higgins meets Darryl Hill while veteran James Wattana tackles world no.2 Stuart Bingham.
Arguably the match of the round involves Mark Williams, who faces a very tricky opener against talented Chinese teenager Zhao Xintong.
Ricky Walden, who has struggled somewhat since being beaten in the final of the 2016 China Open, also meets a young player from China in Zhang Yong.
Of the Irish, Ken Doherty continues his fight to remain inside the top 64 in the world rankings against Allan Taylor.
Fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien and rookie Josh Boileau each clash with former World Championship finalists, Nigel Bond and Matthew Stevens respectively.
Belfast’s Joe Swail, another currently just inside the top 64, will play Paul Davison on Friday.
Coverage of the qualifiers will be available on the Eurosport Player and selected betting websites.
Categories: Snooker News