The fourth ranking tournament of the 2018/19 season gets under way on Monday with the return of the China Championship in Guangzhou.
Twelve months ago, Luca Brecel emerged victorious to land his maiden ranking success when he overcame Shaun Murphy 10-5 in the final, with the £150,000 helping him to establish himself as a leading top 16 member.
It’s been a mostly difficult twelve months for the Belgian since then, though, as he has generally struggled, through a mixture of cue trouble and bad form, to replicate that kind of performance level again.
However, the 23 year-old will be hoping that the memories from 2017 will help to reinvigorate his game as he attempts to reestablish himself as a credible member of the elite crop.
Brecel’s qualifying round fixture against Joe O’Connor has been held over to the main venue so the top seed will require seven wins if he’s to defend his crown.
The first three ranking competitions of this term each produced different champions and that trio of competitors are among a star-studded field assembled for the 2018 China Championship.
There’s no Ronnie O’Sullivan, who last weekend claimed the lucrative Shanghai Masters for a second successive season, and the in-form Kyren Wilson has withdrawn on the eve of the event citing personal reasons, but Riga Masters champion Neil Robertson and World Open winner Mark Williams are in action.
Australia’s Robertson faces Gerard Greene while world champion Williams begins his quest to land a fifth ranking title in less than a year when he entertains Rod Lawler in the held over preliminary round – with Ken Doherty a possible opponent in the first round proper in what would be a regular clash of old.
John Higgins, who won the inaugural China Championship a couple of years ago, is up against Allan Taylor while world number one Mark Selby will attempt to regain some confidence when he meets Thailand’s Akani Songsermsawad – a semi-finalist in the recent Six Red World Championship.
Judd Trump plays Rhys Clark, last year’s runner-up Murphy is set to return after announcing that everything is thankfully fine with his baby daughter and will face Liam Highfield, with Masters champion Mark Allen in battle alongside Matthew Selt and Shanghai Masters finalist Barry Hawkins in action against Ashley Carty.
Thanks for all your kind tweets about Molly this week. Happy to say that she’s now back at home and doing well. Thanks to the staff at @CMRF_Crumlin for making our girl better ❤️
— Shaun Murphy (@Magician147) September 15, 2018
There are several other intriguing ties to keep an eye on throughout the draw, which provides a best of nine format through to the semi-finals.
World Open runner-up David Gilbert will look to bounce back strongly from his painful defeat in Yushan but has a tricky opener in Iran’s Hossein Vafaei.
Jack Lisowski, another in-form cueist who will also maybe be disappointed to have not collected silverware already this term, faces Kurt Maflin while two young stars of the future in Alexander Ursenbacher and Yuan Sijun clash in a fun looking affair.
Of course, several Chinese cueists throughout the draw will be hoping to perform well in what is one of their home events.
Ding Junhui and Liang Wenbo have their qualifying round matches to negotiate before getting properly involved in proceedings while Xiao Guodong, Yan Bingtao, Xu Si, and Zhao Xintong are some of the others from the home nation trying to impress.