Ronnie O’Sullivan will make his maiden bow of the 2018/19 campaign on Wednesday when he plays Neil Robertson in the last 16 of the Shanghai Masters in China.
The revamped tournament, being played as a lucrative invitational rather than a ranking event for the first time since its launch more than a decade ago, got under way on Monday with Robertson among the early winners in the wildcard round.
A total of 24 players comprised the original line-up, featuring the top 16 in the world rankings list, the next four highest ranked Chinese competitors, and an additional quartet of wildcards from the home nation.
The top eight seeds including O’Sullivan were seeded through to the last 16, which gets under way later on Tuesday at the Regal International East Asia Hotel.
Robertson made light work of his Chinese opponent, hammering Guo Hoa 6-1 to set up the intriguing contest with the “Rocket”.
While the Australian has already tasted glory this season following his triumph in the early-season Riga Masters in Latvia, O’Sullivan hasn’t partaken in a competitive game since losing to Ali Carter in a heated World Snooker Championship encounter in April.
It was a disappointing end to what was otherwise an impressive term for O’Sullivan, who captured a record-equalling five ranking event titles including the UK Championship in York.
Whether the world number three can immediately replicate that kind of form remains an obvious question mark but this kind of tournament, boasting an elite field and a slightly longer format than what is the norm, usually suits O’Sullivan perfectly.
O’Sullivan’s tie with Robertson will be the last to be completed in the round with six other clashes to be first determined before the crowd gets the long-awaited return of the Shanghai Masters reigning champion.
There’s only six prior matches as a result of the late withdrawal from the competition of Shaun Murphy, who recently had his second child in Dublin, meaning that the grateful Stuart Bingham, holder of the highest break of the event so far after a 140 in his defeat of Fan Zhengyi, advances straight into the quarter-finals later in the week.
Not a bad way to start a Monday morning with a 140 first poke! 🤩
Played good to win 6-0 and even sweeter is that it puts me into the quarterfinals as my next opponent has withdrawn. #happydays #ballrun #shanghaimasters
— Stuart Bingham (@Stuart__Bingham) September 10, 2018
However, as you would expect from an event of this magnitude, there are eye-catching encounters up and down the draw to salivate over.
The in-form Kyren Wilson, winner of both of the last two tournaments on the Main Tour thanks to successes in the Paul Hunter Classic and the Six Red World Championship, faces Judd Trump in a repeat of their 2015 Shanghai Masters final.
Wilson prevailed on that occasion in a tight decider and, even though Trump represents the higher seed, the Kettering cueist could well be the favourite to progress such is his rich vein of form at present.
Chinese number one Ding Junhui, who missed out on six red glory in Thailand to Wilson just a few days ago, battles with Mark Allen in another mouthwatering affair.
Allen superbly fought back from 4-3 down to overcome Xiao Guodong in his opening hurdle, reeling off late runs of 81, 59, and 102 to set up the encounter with Ding.
Earlier on Tuesday, world number one Mark Selby entertains Zhou Yuelong and Barry Hawkins meets Stephen Maguire.
Along with O’Sullivan and Robertson’s bout tomorrow, world champion Mark Williams will enter the fray against Anthony McGill while four-time world champion John Higgins faces Ryan Day in another Scotland versus Wales duel.