After just about a month’s break, the snooker roadshow is about to get back under way with the beginning of the 2017/18 campaign.
The start of May saw Mark Selby being crowned world champion for the third time as he became only the fourth player to successfully defend the title at the Crucible.
Since then, it hasn’t all been downtime and respite on the snooker scene, especially for the 200-odd amateurs and fallen professionals who descended on Preston for the annual Qualifying School.
Twelve competitors in total managed to emerge with a professional ticket, including returning pros Joe Swail and Sean O’Sullivan, as well as newcomers Lukas Kleckers and Ashley Hugill.
The dozen will likely feel match sharp as they go back to the Guild Hall for another week of qualifying action – this time for the first two ranking events of the season.
First up is the Riga Masters qualifying round, held from Wednesday until Friday, before the China Championship preliminaries take place over the weekend and into next week.
As has been commonplace over the last number of seasons, the summer months can be a bit of a stagnated effort and things don’t really tend to get going properly until August or September.
That said, a few rescheduling of tournaments, such as the China Championship and Indian Open, and the addition of the biennial World Cup ensures that there’s a little bit more fluidity to the opening jousts of this term.
There still remains lengthy gaps of inaction in June and July but early August will see the pace quicken with several qualifying weeks and big events played in quick succession.
Back to this week and, while several of the heavy-hitters have entered the Riga Masters, it doesn’t come as necessarily a huge surprise to see a lot opt for a slightly longer vacation.
Selby, the runaway leader at the top of the world rankings, meets Malta’s Alex Borg but his encounter is one of four which will be held over to the main venue in around four weeks time.
Defending champion Neil Robertson’s encounter with amateur Daniel Ward is another as the Australian hopes to rediscover his form after an indifferent last campaign.
The likes of Barry Hawkins, Stuart Bingham, Mark Allen, and Mark Williams are in the draw but among the star attractions absent will be Judd Trump, John Higgins, and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Unsurprisingly, that trio has entered the more lucrative China Championship, of which Higgins will be the defending champion after his victory last year when the tournament was launched as an invitational.
Legends Jimmy White and Ken Doherty have immediately taken up their lifelines of two-year invitational tour cards, offered to them after they both dropped off the circuit at the end of the last campaign.
Doherty’s countrymen Fergal O’Brien and Josh Boileau will also be in action over the next week.
Boileau, in particular, will be hoping to make a fast start as he seeks to improve on a chastening rookie year as a professional.
In truth, it’s difficult enough to predict these qualifying events when the season is in full motion, but now, when so many cueists will still be dusting off the cobwebs and ironing out the rust from their games, a few extra upsets won’t necessarily come as any major surprise.
Either way, we go again!