The last ranking event of the inaugural European Series gets under way on Friday but several marquee names have withdrawn from the Gibraltar Open draw.
Neil Robertson is the front-running candidate for the £150,000 top prize on offer for topping the European Series rankings list.
The Australian boasts earnings of £115,000 from the previous three events in the series – winning the European Masters before finishing runner-up in the German Masters.
Judd Trump, who pipped Robertson to glory in Berlin, stands £35,000 behind his rival and needs to lift the Gibraltar Open trophy to snatch the jackpot.
With Robertson and many others opting not to travel to Gibraltar amidst the ongoing worldwide coronavirus outbreak, the Gibraltar Open draw has already somewhat opening up for the world number one.
John Higgins, Stephen Maguire, Mark Allen, and Ali Carter are among some of the other high-profile competitors to pull out.
Numerous international sporting events have already been either postponed or cancelled, but the Gibraltar Open is, for now at least, set to go ahead – albeit with attendances limited to 100 people or less.
One of the smallest ranking events on the calendar, with a champion’s cheque worth just £50,000, the Gibraltar Open was originally scheduled to be the fourth last tournament of the 2019/20 campaign.
However, it’s becoming increasingly possible that a scenario could arise in which this tournament is the last before the World Snooker Championship in April.
The China Open has already been cancelled, leaving only next week’s Tour Championship remaining.
Yet, the likelihood of the Llandudno competition going ahead appears low as Britain – and its sports stars – begins to get embroiled in what has already been classified as a worldwide pandemic.
Whether the World Championship itself gets the green light is also up for debate.
Should the action in Gibraltar get completed then, it could potentially stand as Trump’s last opportunity to break the record for most ranking titles in a single season.
The 30 year-old’s victory in the recent Players Championship represented his fifth of this term – matching the prior achievements of Stephen Hendry, Ding Junhui, Mark Selby, and Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Meanwhile, should the Tour Championship manage to survive cancellation in a week’s time, it will feature the top eight players on the one-year money list.
Trump tops those standings comfortably, with Robertson, Allen, Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, and Yan Bingtao all also assured of their spots too.
The only competitor in doubt is eighth ranked Higgins, whose withdrawal means that four contenders could usurp him in the order.
Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Kyren Wilson, Joe Perry, and Mark Williams would all leapfrog the Scot if they are crowned the champion on Sunday.
It’s difficult to predict the outcome of the Gibraltar Open draw, which features almost a dozen amateurs who came through pre-qualifying.
The format incorporates that of the now defunct European Tour, or PTC series, in which every game is played over the best of seven frames, including the final, while a lack of atmosphere inside the arena could also play a part.
It’s a strange and unprecedented situation, but there remains opportunities to seize and a trophy to raise aloft.
Live coverage is on Eurosport.
Click here to view the Gibraltar Open draw. (Times: CET)
Featured Photo: WST