Professional Snooker - 2017 Kaspersky Riga Masters
23rd-25th June 2017 / Arena Riga, Latvia
EAGER FOR RIGA!
The first trophy of the new professional season will be claimed this weekend in Latvia as the venue stages of the 2017 Riga Masters get played out.
It is the fourth consecutive year that the Eastern European country will play host to a World Snooker event. The tournament is once again sponsored by cyber security firm Kaspersky; some would say this is a welcome change to the vast number of online bookmakers who are now involved.
Whilst the support these bookmakers have given is greatly received, I, like many, would love to see some more 'blue chip' corporations featuring in the sports UK and European adventures. Snooker continues to globalise and can offer exposure for them.
The opening two editions of this event were part of the now defunct European Tour. In fact, the tournament was titled the 'Riga Open' as amateurs were eligible to enter the qualifying rounds.
Inaugural champion was predictably Mark Selby, the player who achieved the most success in that PTC/Euro Tour era. The 2014 winner beat Mark Allen 4-3 in the final, despite having been 3-0 down - another true Selby-esque performance!
12 months later it was another elite name who walked off with the trophy as Barry Hawkins denied fellow Englishman Tom Ford 4-1.
As the European Tour was disbanded, the Paul Hunter Classic, the Gibraltar Open and Riga were kept on the calendar. They were also given full major ranking status.
2016 saw a number of changes to the make up and format. The event changed its name to the Riga Masters as it was only open to professionals and invited wildcards. This meant a flat draw of 128 players, with the majority of first round ties being played back in the UK a few weeks previously. The Semi-Finals and Final were also raised to the best of 9 frames.
Exactly the same format will be used this year, although the top prize has been bumped up to £50,000; boosting its profile as a legitimate ranker more.
Neil Robertson once again got his season off to a flyer when he defeated Michael Holt 5-2 in the 2016 final - meaning 6 different finalists in the 3 years.
One of the biggest talking points from last year was veteran Darren Morgan's return to the big time. The former World Number 8 won a spot at the venue courtesy of scooping the amateur only EBSA European Open in Lithuania. He made the most of this one-off ticket, going all the way to the Last 4 before being comprehensively defeated by Robertson.
Morgan actually had the opportunity to do it all again this year after he retained that Euro Open title in Albania only a couple of weeks ago. However, on this occasion, the busy Welsh businessman has declined the offer.
Just like last year then, there are two wildcards who go straight into the main draw. This time these are home Latvian players in youngster Rodion Judin, and the best female in the country, Tatiana Vasiljeva, who took a frame off Marco Fu in 2016.
Unfortunately, despite the cash climb, a cluster of top names have given the trip a miss, perhaps making the most of the 'off season' before the busy months kick in. World Champion Selby was due to compete again, but is apparently sidelined due to a toe injury.
However, the tournament is still very intriguing and this could give those taking part an early season advantage by removing pressure with a good run. There is also a possibility that a maiden ranking winner could emerge...
Picture above is courtesy of World Snooker
Written and published by Michael Day on the 22nd June 2017