The 2019 Riga Masters will not feature three of the pre-tournament favourites after the final day of qualifiers ended in Sheffield on Thursday.
Former world champions Shaun Murphy and Stuart Bingham both exited in the preliminary stage, while fellow Englishman Barry Hawkins was another unexpected casualty.
Murphy generated headlines earlier this week for his somewhat bizarre decision to enter a qualification tournament for golf’s prestigious Open Championship this summer.
The “Magician”, who endured an awful last campaign amid a flurry of first round losses in ranking events, might want to focus his efforts more on his primary sport after kickstarting the 2019/20 term with yet another defeat.
Murphy’s plummet down the pecking order has been so severe that his place among the top 16 in the world rankings is under serious threat and his 4-3 reverse to Zhang Anda won’t help matters much.
After falling two frames adrift, the 36 year-old won three on the spin to seemingly obtain control, but subsequently scored only one additional point as Zhang marched through to next month’s 2019 Riga Masters.
Bingham and Hawkins, meanwhile, were respectively dispatched of by Li Hang and Jamie O’Neill courtesy of 4-1 scorelines.
In the latter’s defence, there perhaps wasn’t too much that Hawkins could have done against an opponent who scored breaks of 101, 73, and 120 in the opening three frames.
O’Neill is returning to the professional circuit for the first time since 2014 after graduating from Q School in May.
China’s Li accounted for Bingham in a much scrappier affair, taking advantage of the 2005 world champion’s early season rustiness.
Lu Ning produced a much more assured performance as he rattled off runs of 138, 85, 67, and 59 in taking care of the challenge from Martin O’Donnell.
It wasn’t all rosy for the Chinese contingent, though, as Zhao Xintong and Fan Zhengyi both exited at the preliminary hurdle at Ponds Forge.
Zhao, one of the lower ranked players of last season, succumbed to a 4-3 loss to Poland’s Kacper Filipiak while Joe Perry knocked in four half century breaks to see off Fan.
Elsewhere, Kyren Wilson scored well to beat Fergal O’Brien and Mark King matched that 4-1 outcome as he overcame Martin Gould.
Anthony Hamilton and Soheil Vahedi were the day’s other winners following comfortable triumphs over top-up amateurs Andrew Pagett and Andreas Ploner respectively.
The 2019 Riga Masters will get under way with the venue stages towards the end of July.
Next up for the players is another round of qualifiers with the last 128 of the International Championship starting on Friday.