The 2018 World Open gets under way on Monday as the 2018/19 campaign begins to gather a little momentum.
The first ranking event of the new term concluded only last week with Neil Robertson capturing the Riga Masters title at the expense of Jack Lisowski in Latvia.
It marked an incredible fourth time in the last six seasons that the Australian had bagged the opening ranking tournament and it saw him consolidate his place among the top ten in the world rankings.
The players next head to Yushan for their first outing in China this season with the World Open again boasting a huge prize fund that offers the champion a cool £150,000 winner’s cheque.
Home favourite Ding Junhui will be returning as the reigning champion after his dominant triumph over Kyren Wilson almost twelve months ago.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, that success represents Ding’s only individual silverware of note in almost two years on the circuit.
There was once upon a time when the 31 year-old desperately struggled on home turf but, in fact, five of Ding’s last seven ranking titles have come in China so it’ll be interesting to see if he can repeat the trick again over the coming week.
The former top ranked player is one of several marquee competitors, including Robertson and world champion Mark Williams, who have had their qualifying rounds from Preston held over to the main stages of the 2018 World Open.
Defending champion Ding faces veteran James Wattana in the preliminary stages before a potentially intriguing tie against young countryman Yuan Sijun in the first round proper.
Robertson will be looking to prolong his early run of form against unheralded Chinese player He Guoqiang while Williams is up against Germany’s Lukas Kleckers.
Overall, this year’s edition of the World Open incorporates a stellar line-up, albeit one lacking legends Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins, with the pair opting to extend their summer break a little longer.
The majority of the other star names are in the field, though, with world number one Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Barry Hawkins, Mark Allen, Luca Brecel, and last year’s runner-up Wilson all in action.
With the format reverting back to the traditional best of nine frames for this event, there’s an even greater scope to suggest that one of the primary contenders will emerge with the trophy come next Sunday evening.
One sub-plot to keep an eye on throughout the week is the fight for a place in the lucrative Shanghai Masters next month.
An invitational event for the first time, the Shanghai Masters will feature the top 16 in the world rankings, the next four highest ranked Chinese cueists, and four further Chinese amateur wildcards.
With a total prize fund of £725,000 and a whopping £200,000 going to the champion, it will represent one of the richest tournaments on the calendar and one not to be missed for those in the higher echelons.
Ryan Day is currently holding on to the 16th and final ticket in the latest provisional world rankings, with Marco Fu the player crucially set to just miss out as things stand.
The Hong Kong native, who won’t be counted as one of the Chinese players, is involved in one of the matches of the first round as he takes on former world champion Peter Ebdon in the last 64.
Meanwhile, it will again be interesting to see what kind of atmosphere there is in Yushan, which stages the World Open for the third year in a row despite never quite having capturing the imagination of both fan and player.
Based in a remote area that is tough to get to, crowds haven’t been particularly good over the last couple of years, particularly in the opening few days when the classic “one man and his dog” comments become commonplace on social media.
Still, with so much at stake it promises to be a fascinating few days on the green baize at least and every day of the 2018 World Open will be covered, as ever, right here on SnookerHQ.