Professional Snooker / 2016 China Open
28th March - 3rd April 2016 / Beijing University Students' Gymnasium, China
NON-STOP SNOOKER CIRCUIT IS BEIJING BOUND
Despite being in the thick of the Players Championship Semi-Finals as I write this, we must also turn our attention to the 2016 China Open which starts in Beijing on Monday morning.
Whilst the players still involved at the business end in Manchester will be given a little bit of grace by having their opening matches put to Wednesday (I believe), the logistics of it all are a bit crazy and chaotic! Hardly ideal preparation for those concerned.
I appreciate it is very difficult securing venues and meeting certain sponsors needs and requirements, but why not swap last week's Chinese 8 Ball World Championship (which was also in China, and had a handful of top snooker entrants in it) with this week's Players Championship?
Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams and Graeme Dott will effectively travel from Llandudno to Shangrao City to Manchester to Beijing and then back to the UK in the space of four weeks. Asia plays a huge part in the circuit now (has for a few years obviously), but maybe this could be looked into - the other three Chinese events were all played in the first third of the season.
Another solution / idea would be why not have the World Grand Prix as the last event before the World Championship Qualifiers? It could then be a true Order of Merit for all the events that season, and being in the UK, would be ideal preparation for everyone involved in the Worlds.
The China Open is one of the most established, long standing and recognised tournaments on the professional scene, but has been sacrificed by players in recent years who want extra time to get ready for their Crucible bids.
Anyway, I digressed...on to the draw...
Aside from the obligitary Wildcards and big name matches held over, to all intensive purposes we are at the Last 64 stage after a round of qualifying was completed in Barnsley in February. (Read here)
Surprisingly, out of the 60 Round 1 matches already played, 49 of the higher ranked players came through; bucking the trend somewhat of this campaign.
However, of those who did not progress, were top 16 stars Mark Allen and Mark Williams.
The reigning champion will not be a defending champion either, as 2015 victor Mark Selby has withdrawn due to personal reasons. Isle of Man rookie pro Darryl Hill receives the bye.
The top quarter of the draw looks very much up for grabs with Michael White, Stephen Maguire and Joe Perry perhaps the main contenders to progress through to the Last 4.
Maguire, winner of this in 2008, currently sits outside of the automatic Crucible spots and requires a very deep run here to avoid three rounds of qualification at Ponds Forge the following week. The Scot faces Gary Wilson - last year's very surprise finalist.
Williams would have been in the second segment, but this area is still heavy loaded with talents such as Judd Trump (whose professional breakthrough was here in 2011), Marco Fu, Ali Carter and the in-form Shaun Murphy. Even the lower ranked seeds involved include Anthony McGill, Jimmy Robertson, Robert Milkins and Matthew Selt!
Quarter 3 still has its full compliment of Top 16 seeds intact - Neil Robertson, Martin Gould, Ding Junhui and John Higgins.
Despite winning the China International in 1999, this is one of the few titles Higgins has never held, whilst home hero Ding has left his legion of fans happy in 2005 and 2014. John has a very tricky tie with another Chinese cueist in Zhou Yuelong, whilst Junhui faces Lee Walker, a player who knocked him out of the 2015 Welsh Open, in his heldover Round 1 fixture.
2013 victor Robertson has had a fairly quiet few weeks - he lost first round to Peter Ebdon in the World Grand Prix and wasn't eligible for this week's Players Championship. Will the break work to his advantage?
Graeme Dott is also here, as is Luca Brecel.
The bottom section sees the entrance of World Champion Stuart Bingham, who a fortnight ago had his best run of the season when he reached the final of the WGP. Should he eliminate Cao Yupeng, Sam Baird would his Last 64 opponent.
Just like the previous quarter, all the elite seeds will be present - Bingham, Barry Hawkins, Ricky Walden and Liang Wenbo. In summary, the bottom half on paper appears the toughest.
Kyren Wilson, the Shanghai Masters winner in September, has an unlikely outside chance to gatecrash the top 16. He begins his bid against Tom Ford - just like him, a player to feature in the recent WGP / PC double.
Ryan Day, Michael Holt, Peter Ebdon and Tian Pengfei are dangerous floaters lurking too.
Historically, the winner of this competition generally doesn't fair too well at the Crucible Theatre (certainly recent times) - however, with £85,000s worth of ranking points going to the last man standing, it is hardly a prize to be turned down.
The format is the best of 9 frames up to and including the Quarter-Finals. The Semis are BO11, the Final BO19.
Written and published by Michael Day on the 26th March 2016