The 2018/19 snooker season gets under way on Monday with the qualifying rounds for both the Riga Masters and World Open set to take place at the Preston Guild Hall.
The pair of rankers will be the first in a campaign that will boast a total of at least 20, along with numerous invitational tournaments that will once again see the sport travel all around the world.
As the respective defending champions of the Riga Masters and World Open, Ryan Day and Ding Junhui have had their first round matches against Jamie Cope and James Wattana held over to the main arenas in Latvia and China.
These events won’t actually take place for another few weeks, with another sizable gap in the early part of the calendar to come in the middle of July, but the exchanges this week will signal the beginning of the end of snooker’s longest period of respite in years.
In the past number of terms, the Riga Masters has launched the campaign in June but the decision was wisely made this season to give everyone involved in the sport a bit more of a break following a busy season that culminates with the marathon World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
Reaching the Crucible Theatre will once again prove to be one of the primary objectives for the majority of the competitors on the Main Tour but there’ll be an abundance of action to absorb between now and next April.
Only Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, who bagged a total of seven ranking events in the 2017/18 season between them, are the only two players from the higher echelons who have chosen to skip the opening two events of the summer.
The likes of Ding, world number one Mark Selby, and England’s Judd Trump will also be avoiding the Riga Masters on this occasion, although they are set to feature in the World Open.
World champion Mark Williams, Masters winner Mark Allen, Champion of Champions Shaun Murphy, and former Riga Masters champion Neil Robertson are among a strong field that will be hoping to reach the venue stages in both.
With several of the players expected to still be rusty following the lengthy spell out, there’s likely to be a few upsets next week and it certainly provides a decent opportunity for some of the lower ranked cueists to get their seasons off to a positive opening.
The Riga Masters preliminaries will also offer the first opportunity for some of the tour’s debutants to express their talents as professionals in the game.
Inaugural WSF Championship winner Luo Honghao, who begins with a tasty initial challenge against Australia’s Robertson, European under-21 amateur champion Simon Lichtenberg from Germany, and Q School graduate Kishan Hirani from Wales are just three who will be desperate to impress in the big leagues.
It’s a long old season and there’ll be lots of other chances later down the line but there is a degree of importance for every player up and down the rankings in getting going early.
The likes of the Ladbrokes Series in 2019, which incorporates three huge ranking events carrying a collective possible winners’ windfall of £500,000, will be open only to those who perform the best in the first two-thirds of the campaign.
Similarly, the confidence that can come from producing from day one can cause a ripple effect that can ultimately be enjoyed right through the season – as highlighted last year when Day captured his long overdue maiden ranking event in Riga before going on to collect two further crowns in the Gibraltar Open and Romanian Masters.
Snooker’s back then and, while it’ll be another month or so before the first piece of silverware is awarded, there’s plenty to get excited about as the sport’s hectic roadshow shifts out of neutral.