A day after the conclusion of the preliminary round for the Riga Masters, the World Open qualifiers are set to take place this weekend at the Preston Guild Hall.
Riga Masters qualifying finished on Thursday with the majority of the higher ranked players again emerging with early victories at the start of this campaign, following a trend that had developed right from day one on Monday.
Marco Fu bagged his first triumph since undergoing eye surgery at the outset of 2018 thanks to a 4-1 success against Elliot Slessor while Luca Brecel, Jack Lisowski, and Mark Davis also managed to advance to Latvia unscathed.
Fergal O’Brien, one of only two players remaining from the Republic of Ireland alongside fellow Dublin veteran Ken Doherty, held off a spirited fightback from Eden Sharav to prevail in a decider.
Ian Burns also managed a 4-3 victory, storming back from 3-0 down to deny Jamie Clarke on his professional debut, while Alfie Burden and Zhao Xintong completed the line-up that will be featuring in the first ranking tournament of the campaign later this month.
On Friday, attention turns to the World Open qualifiers, with another single round taking place ahead of a return to China in early August.
As the defending champion and China’s top star, Ding Junhui’s encounter with James Wattana has been held over to the main event and, in fact, there are eight fixtures in total that will have to be carried out in a month’s time – including world champion Mark Williams‘ bout with young German Lukas Kleckers.
The format increases a touch to the best of nine frames for this competition, which would lead one to believe that, if there weren’t many upsets in the Riga Masters qualifying when there were only seven short frames to contest, the run of seeded dominance might just continue here.
Like with Riga, marquee names Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins have opted out of this tournament despite a much more attractive prize fund – with the winner’s cheque expected to at least match last year’s £150,000 that Ding collected for his 10-3 defeat of Kyren Wilson.
However, world number one Mark Selby is among a host of other star competitors who are in the field, with the “Jester” looking to begin the season in positive fashion against amateur Luke Simmonds.
Judd Trump will partake in his first tie of this term too as he takes on Kishan Hirani, one of the twelve Q School graduates from May, while Shaun Murphy – a four-time ranking event beaten finalist last season – meets Mei Xiwen.
Irish duo Doherty and O’Brien take on the European pairing of Simon Lichtenberg and Robin Hull respectively, Mark Allen faces Peter Lines, while stalwart Joe Swail is up against Ricky Walden in an interesting battle.
One of the matches of the World Open qualifiers perhaps sees former world champion Graeme Dott, who enjoyed a resurgence of form in the second half of the last campaign, entertain Zhao Xintong, who will be looking to make the most of his second chance on the Main Tour after dropping off the circuit before immediately getting back on via Q School a couple of months ago.