The first ranking event of the 2017/18 snooker season gets under way on Friday with the Riga Masters in Latvia.
Neil Robertson returns as the defending champion, hoping to reignite his career after a disappointing twelve months since he lifted the trophy last June.
The Australian has failed to go beyond the semi-finals of a tournament in that period and suffered early exits in all of the most lucrative events.
The 35 year-old very openly admitted his addiction to gaming earlier this year, with hours of misspent time on consoles certainly playing a role in his failure to live up to high expectations of late.
It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back during this campaign and what kind of form he will bring with him after a couple of months break from competition.
Robertson remains one of the game’s leading stars but there are so many talented competitors in the higher echelons that it’s very easy to suffer a sudden plummet down the pecking order.
Working in the former world champion’s favour is his stellar record in recent years playing in the first ranking event of the campaign.
Including last year’s triumph in Riga, Robertson has in fact won the curtain raiser three out of the last four seasons, so to say that he has previous form of succeeding at this stage of proceedings would be an obvious understatement.
The “Thunder from Down Under” is one of three players who must first emerge from their held-over qualifying round encounters, with the others being Anthony McGill and Chen Zhe.
Robertson meets amateur Daniel Ward early on Friday morning while McGill and Chen face the two home players given wildcards to compete – Tatjana Vasiljeva and Rodion Judin respectively.
World champion Mark Selby was also supposed to come in at this stage but has pulled out, with unconfirmed reports citing a toe injury as the possible reason behind his no-show.
The 34 year-old’s absence will surely come as huge disappointment for the organisers, especially as most of the other marquee names chose not to enter in the first place.
Barry Hawkins is the highest seed remaining and faces one of the most difficult early ties as he plays Ryan Day in the last 64.
Stuart Bingham faces Mark Davis while Mark Williams and Peter Ebdon clash in a battle of former Crucible kings.
With the likes of Selby, Ding Junhui, Judd Trump, Ronnie O’Sullivan, and John Higgins not there, it could be an opportunity for a less heralded player to challenge for the title – particularly as there will likely be quite a lot of rustiness on show as the field dusts off the cobwebs from the off-season.
The fact that it’s best of seven all the way until the semi-finals could also play a part in producing an irregular champion, and perhaps the first maiden winner of this new term.
Ireland’s hopes rest solely, as they so often have in the past, on Ken Doherty, who plays England’s Gary Wilson.
Fellow invitational tour card holder Jimmy White is up against Scotland’s Eden Sharav.
There’s slightly less pressure on Doherty and White to put in a strong performance after World Snooker announced that the invitational tour card holders will be allowed to enter every event from now on regardless of the number of entries.
This year’s Riga Masters sees an increased prize fund, with £50,000 now on offer for the winner on Sunday, while the semi-finals and final will be played over the best of nine frames.
Coverage will be live on Eurosport.
Categories: Snooker News