The Ladbrokes Players Championship gets under way on Monday with the 16 best players from this season in action at the Venue Cymru in Wales.
The Players Championship brings together the highest earners on the circuit since the 2016/17 campaign began last May.
Shaun Murphy was the only man in the field who hadn’t reached any final this term but he rectified that in emphatic fashion on Sunday by capturing his seventh ranking title at the Gibraltar Open.
Murphy will be hoping to continue that form in Llandudno this week, where a tidy sum of £125,000 is up for grabs for the champion, but the Englishman faces a stiff challenge as he competes alongside one of the best ever line-ups assembled for a ranking event.
Done away with are the shorter formats as the traditional best of nines return for the first round and quarter-finals at the Players Championship, before the matches increase to best of 11 for the semi-finals and a final over the best of 19 frames this coming Sunday.
Most tournaments on the calendar prove difficult to predict but this one is arguably so on an even higher scale, on a parallel with the likes of the Masters and the Champion of Champions.
That said, Ronnie O’Sullivan has tended to dominate those particular events in recent years, perhaps underlining his knack for rising to the occasion when the field is so illustrious and the challenge is at its greatest.
The five-time world champion will begin the competition, as he inevitably does, as the favourite but he does so in search of a first ranking event success in more than a year.
O’Sullivan meets close pal Liang Wenbo on the opening night of action, who he memorably beat at Alexandra Palace en route to his seventh Masters crown in January.
Liang had a relatively simple black to knock out the ‘Rocket’ in the last 16, the same round as where they’ll meet today, but ultimately choked and was duly punished before O’Sullivan romped to more silverware in London.
O’Sullivan is on the opposite side of the draw to top seed Mark Selby, but both cueists have struggled to reach their top form in the last few weeks so a mouthwatering final between the two rivals is a long way off yet.
Murphy, who won the Players Championship under a previous guise in 2011, is in the same half as O’Sullivan and meets Ali Carter at the first hurdle.
Also in the bottom bracket are Neil Robertson, Barry Hawkins, and Judd Trump – who meets Mark King in arguably the only first round tie which has an overwhelming favourite.
World number one Selby, meanwhile, gets his campaign under way against the very in-form Ryan Day.
Day is still searching for a maiden ranking trophy but he has produced some great results of late, notably in reaching the World Grand Prix final as well as the semi-finals in Gibraltar and the non-ranking Championship League.
The 36 year-old has an eye on the top 16 in the world rankings list, where automatic qualification for the World Championship is crucially at stake.
Selby has been surprisingly quiet since his stellar 2016 came to an end so this could be an opportunity for Day to seize the moment and prolong his run of form.
One of the encounters of the first round, of which admittedly there are many eye-catching affairs, is the ensuing battle between John Higgins and Ding Junhui.
Higgins won his third invitational title of the season last week at the Championship League and faces an opponent who has become almost predictable in his unpredictability.
Which Ding turns up on the day is anyone’s guess and it would neither be a shock to see him get dumped out early nor indeed dispatch of the Scot and proceed to mount a serious challenge in the event.
The other two encounters see four ranking event winners from the last few months go head-to-head.
Anthony McGill meets Marco Fu in an even encounter on paper while another Anthony, the “Sheriff” Hamilton, who is undoubtedly one of the players of the season so far, faces Welsh Open champion Stuart Bingham.
The Players Championship sees snooker coverage return to ITV4 for the last time this season, the broadcaster having provided excellent coverage to four events during the campaign.
The ITV tournaments have all generated plenty of interest and there’s no reason why this meeting should be any different, with so many of the game’s biggest current stars in attendance.
Last 16 Draw (Best of 9)
Mark Selby 5-4 Ryan Day
Anthony McGill 1-5 Marco Fu
Ding Junhui 5-4 John Higgins
Anthony Hamilton 5-1 Stuart Bingham
Barry Hawkins 0-5 Neil Robertson
Shaun Murphy 4-5 Ali Carter
Ronnie O’Sullivan 5-1 Liang Wenbo
Mark King 2-5 Judd Trump
Quarter-finals (Best of 9)
Mark Selby 2-5 Marco Fu
Ding Junhui 5-2 Anthony Hamilton
Neil Robertson 3-5 Ali Carter
Ronnie O’Sullivan 3-5 Judd Trump
Semi-finals (Best of 11)
Marco Fu 5-6 Ding Junhui
Ali Carter 4-6 Judd Trump
Final (Best of 19)
Marco Fu 8-10 Judd Trump
Categories: Snooker News