The 2019/20 season launches properly on Friday with the venue stages of the Riga Masters draw in Latvia.
This campaign on the professional Main Tour has already provided champions, with John Higgins and Stephen Maguire triumphing in the Snooker World Cup for Scotland last month.
Two batches of qualifiers preceded that invitational in Wuxi, but it’s the first ranking event of the season this weekend that will really get the juices flowing for the new term.
It has been quite a long spell of respite since Judd Trump memorably claimed his maiden world title at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield in early May.
Indeed, it has been as close as we’ve come to a traditional summer off-season since the Barry Hearn era began almost a decade ago.
As a result, players ought to be fully rejuvenated and recharged ahead of another hectic year to come – albeit there will likely be a few cobwebs to dust off as well.
The 2019 Riga Masters draw doesn’t feature Trump, who opted to skip this event in favour of a slightly longer rest.
Ronnie O’Sullivan, John Higgins, Mark Allen, and Ding Junhui were among the others who opted not to enter while the likes of Shaun Murphy, Stuart Bingham, and David Gilbert lost in the June qualifying round.
Defending champion Neil Robertson is making his return to the Arena Riga, though, in a bid to capture this title for a third time in four years.
In fact, Robertson’s early season form has been so prolific that in four out of the last six years the Australian has managed to walk away with the season’s first ranking crown.
Robertson had his preliminary fixture held over but is set for a tricky opener against veteran Robert Milkins on day one.
Finally … the first ranking tournament of the season starts tomorrow, Friday 26 July
The Riga Masters
Defending Champ 🏆 Neil Robertson
Live on Eurosport 📺
Draw 👇https://t.co/HnmkHqujm4#snooker #RigaMasters pic.twitter.com/vkWqTYvBiP
— Phil Mudd (@MuddPhil) July 25, 2019
With so many stars absent from the Riga Masters draw and with the likes of Stephen Maguire, Barry Hawkins, and Ryan Day also failing to qualify, the opportunity is definitely there for a lower ranked competitor to challenge.
Former world number ones Mark Selby and Mark Williams are a couple of the other heavy hitters who will be expected to perform strongly but the short best of seven frames format for the majority of the competition will act as another potential leveller.
The likes of Jack Lisowski, runner-up here twelve months ago, and Yan Bingtao will perhaps be looking at this tournament as an ideal chance to bag a maiden piece of ranking silverware on the circuit.
As always, the initial exchanges of a new season will remain difficult to predict.
Any number of players could get a few early wins, build up a little momentum, and end up with the trophy in hand.
There will additionally be a focus on whether or not the ever expanding crop of Chinese cueists can begin to make bigger names for themselves.
The Riga Masters draw boasts more than a dozen players from the country still attempting to add to the glory days from hero Ding Junhui and compatriot Liang Wenbo.
Chinese snooker gets quite a lot of stick for failing – so far – to translate its promise and obvious talent into more success but it’s worth remembering that the majority of these tour members are still under the age of 30, or even 20, and have plenty more years to prove themselves at the pinnacle of the sport.
We will eagerly await to see what transpires over the next few days and which player will get off to the best possible opening in the 2019/20 campaign.
The Riga Masters has established itself as a worthy curtain raiser over the last few years and it’s to Eastern Europe where we return again to get the next chapter of the sport under way.