The 2019 Shanghai Masters gets under way on Monday with Ronnie O’Sullivan making his eagerly anticipated first appearance of the season.
O’Sullivan, the defending champion in Shanghai, hasn’t been in action since losing to amateur James Cahill in a sensational first round World Championship upset at the Crucible in April.
Since then, the “Rocket” has surrendered his number one position in the world rankings, as rival Judd Trump has leapfrogged him into top spot after asserting a level of dominance of his own on the sport.
So many of 2019’s biggest stories have focussed on either Ronnie O’Sullivan or Judd Trump, with the pair accounting for six out of the richest seven titles since the prestigious Masters in January.
The latter, of course, denied his fellow Englishman at the Alexandra Palace with a dominant performance that set him on his way to eventual glory in Sheffield for the first time in his career.
It’s possible that the duo could face off against one another again at the same final stage in Shanghai, and what a mouthwatering prospect that would be.
However, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome before that possibility materialises with a stellar field assembling again for this year’s edition of the Shanghai Masters.
As per the changes that came into effect in 2018, the tournament is now not a ranking tournament but a lucrative invitational that boasts an overall pot of £750,000.
Comprising the top 16, the four next best placed Chinese competitors in the rankings list, and four additional Chinese wildcards, the champion next Sunday will receive a whopping £200,000.
The top eight seeds – consisting of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Mark Williams, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Mark Selby, Mark Allen, and Kyren Wilson – all receive a bye into the last 16.
The remaining top 16 members must face one of the eight invited Chinese challengers in order to reach the same stage.
We already know that Riga Masters champion Yan Bingtao will be in the line-up alongside Xiao Guodong, Lyu Haotian, and Liang Wenbo thanks to their rankings.
Yet, full details concerning the other four wildcards from China have not been released despite the fact that we’ve reached the eve of the tournament’s opening.
Why this is the case is unknown, but it’s another example in a growing string of them lately in which there has been a lack of transparency from World Snooker with regard key information in a tournament’s outlook.
How players were chosen to compete in the recent Paul Hunter Classic was a controversial talking point among onlookers last month while the prize money for last week’s Six Red World Championship was only confirmed by World Snooker on the day of the semi-finals.
If there’s a reason for a lack of an announcement regarding the Shanghai supporting cast – perhaps there’s a qualifying tournament concluding this weekend? – then just simply don’t leave everybody in the dark over it.
In any case, one player who will definitely feature is Saturday’s six red world champion Stephen Maguire.
The Scot is brimming with confidence after adding a second piece of silverware to his cabinet this season already.
Maguire, who won the World Cup with Higgins in June, takes on Xiao Guodong while the likes of Ding Junhui, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy, and Barry Hawkins are in the hunt as well.
Live coverage is on Eurosport.
Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)
**Update** It has been revealed that the amateur wildcards are Wu Yize, Zhao Jianbo, Zhang Yi, and Cao Jin.
The two players placed on the Junior ranking list are Zhao Jianbo and Wu Yize, both massive talents and likely top players of the future. They could cause an upset, but at 16 and 15-years old respectively, might suffer a few nerves.
The ‘amateur’ tournament is probably still being completed (in China, they refer to full-time players as ‘professional’ even though most of them are not on our 128-player world tour). They might pot a few good balls, even win a couple of frames, but it’s inconceivable they could actually win a match.
Indeed. Zhang Yi and Cao Jin are the other two players, now confirmed.