Next Tuesday sees the start of the 2015 Xuzhou Open, the third and crucially final, event of this season’s Asian Tour.
As well as confirming the season’s latest title winner, the tournament will also see the final 2014/15 Asian Order of Merit confirmed, a significant list for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the list will determine the identities of eight of the players involved at this season’s Players Championship Grand Finals, due to be staged in Thailand in March. Not only this, but the prize money earned will also be combined with that earned at European Tour events to determine the seedings for the event.
The Asian Order of Merit will also determine four main tour places for the next two seasons, with two-year cards available for the top four players not already qualified by any other means.
Following the publication of the draw this week, we can now take a look at those involved and try to identify a few of the themes and players to follow next week in China.
Players Championship Grand Finals Qualification
Simply put, the top eight players on the Asian Order of Merit following next week’s third and final Asian Tour event will qualify to play at this season’s Players Championship Grand Finals.
As with most things in snooker, this is subject to a number of qualifications, for example if a player is able to qualify for the Finals by both the Asian and European lists and this is something that I will investigate below.
Let us start with the easy bit however, as we can say that both Ding Junhui and Stuart Bingham are already assured of claiming a top eight place following their respective victories at the first two Asian Tour events staged this season. The same can be said for runners-up Oliver Lines and Michael Holt.
It is not a surprise therefore to see that none of these four players have entered next week’s event and will no doubt looking to use the extra time at home to recharge ahead of what will be a busy few months on the baize as the season enters a critical phase.
Another not to have entered is current fifth placed man Ryan Day, a decision that is perhaps more surprising as the Welshman is not yet guaranteed to finish inside the top eight and is currently sitting in a tie for 47th place in the European Order of Merit with one event still to be played.
Some £1,300 behind Day stands Matt Selt, who has entered the event in China and received a first round bye, while both Jimmy Robertson and Robert Milkins round off the top eight, £1,500 behind Day.
What sort of results would it take for Day to come under threat? Of those immediately behind him, Matt Selt and Jimmy Robertson would need to make the quarter-finals, while two from the likes of Scott Donaldson, Joe Perry, Xiao Guodong and Li Hang would need to make the semi-finals. Interestingly, both Donaldson/Perry and Xiao/Li have been drawn in the same quarters of the draw, meaning that only two of the four will be able to reach that stage.
Even if such a scenario were to happen however, Ryan could yet be safe due to the added complication caused by the fact that both Milkins and Selt are also currently well placed to qualify via the European Order of Merit.
In fact, in Selt’s case, he currently stands in sixth place on both the European and Asian lists, while Milkins sits in seventh place on the European list and in a tie for seventh on the Asian list.
In the unlikely event that these were to be the positions after the final events of the respective series, qualification for the Grand Finals would be set out in the criteria set out at the start of the season here.
In short, Selt would take his place through the European Order of Merit, due to the fact that series has the greater number of events this season, therefore opening the door for the ninth placed man on the Asian list to qualify.
In Milkins’ case, he would finish 8th, due to the fact that Jimmy Robertson’s semi-final run came first chronologically (at AT2 rather than AT1), so Milkins would qualify through the Asian Order of Merit.
Importantly however, Milkins has not entered the Xuzhou Open, therefore it is likely that he will be pushed out of the top eight on the Asian Order of Merit by the time that the event has ended and will therefore qualify for the Finals from the European list.
Of course, we will not know until after the Gdynia Open exactly how the two lists will combine to provide us with the final 32 for Thailand, but it may be the case that all will not yet be lost for whoever those just outside of the top eight are after this event.
Who are these players? At the time of writing, Scott Donaldson and Li Hang are currently occupying ninth place and need to win at least two matches if they are to climb above the absent Robert Milkins, while Joe Perry and Xiao Guodong both stand just £100 further back.
Of these players, only Perry currently stands in contention to clinch a qualifying spot via the European Order of Merit (and even then he currently occupies 24th place), so all will be looking for a deep run in China in order to ease the pressure in Gdynia next month.
Beyond those names, the likes of Tian Pengfei, Ross Muir, Graeme Dott and Ben Woollaston will also be hoping for a strong run in Xuzhou, with at least three, probably four wins likely to be needed if they are to come into contention for a Grand Finals place via this route.
Main Tour Places
As was the case last season, there are four two-year tour cards available via the Asian Order of Merit, which will be allocated to the top four players after next week’s event, not already qualified for the main tour via any other method.
At the time of writing, taking into account where the players are projected to finish the season ranked on the main two-year ranking list, those places are set to go to Ross Muir, Jimmy White, Lin Shuai and Guan Zhen.
Amateur Yan Bingtao is actually higher than three of those players, but has of course already earned a two-year tour card from the 2015/16 season thanks to his victory at the IBSF World Championship late last year.
As some players learned last year, these positions could yet change even after the event has finished, due to the way that this battle is inextricably linked to the positions on the main two-year ranking list. For example, if either Jimmy White or Ross Muir were to finish inside of the top 64 on the official ranking list, then an extra tour place would be available from the Asian Order of Merit.
Grand Final Seedings
A final point of interest during the event is that the seedings for the last 32 stage of the Players Championship Grand Finals will be determined by looking at a combined European and Asian Order of Merit list, counting money from both series.
As a result therefore, for players looking to gain a higher seeding for the Finals, any extra money that can be earned here can only help their cause.
The Xuzhou Open takes place between 20-24 January 2015