Almost a month on since Kyren Wilson lifted his second ranking title at this year’s Paul Hunter Classic and the World Snooker Tour resumes with the third staging of the Evergrande China Championship tomorrow.
With Wilson, Neil Robertson and Mark Williams already in the winner’s enclosure this season who will join them by claiming the £150,000 top prize in Guangzhou?
First staged as an invitational event won by John Higgins back in 2016, last year saw the event transition to a full-ranking event with talented Belgian player Luca Brecel making his long-awaited breakthrough and lifting his first ranking title.
Seeded through to the venue stages as defending champion, Brecel will now join the likes of world number 1 Mark Selby, reigning world champion Mark Williams and home favourite Ding Junhui among a star-studded field in Guangzhou this week.
With the exception of last week’s Shanghai Masters champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and the in-form Kyren Wilson who is a late withdrawal after his son Finley was taken ill last week (now making a ‘speedy recovery’), there will be a full complement of top 20 players in action this week making it very difficult to predict a winner.
As was the case last year early matches will be played over the best of nine frames, subsequently increasing to the best of 11 for the semi-finals and best of 19 for the two-session final. There will be eight tables used for the first two rounds, decreasing to four for the last 16, two for the quarter-finals and one for the semi-finals and final.
The event is the final tournament to be completed ahead of the third seedings revision of the 2018/19 campaign, with the completed list to be used to determine seedings for the 2018 International Championship.
Ranking points earned will also count towards the Race to the Masters, while the eventual champion will also be guaranteed a place at this year’s Champion of Champions if they have not secured their spot already.
The Top Quarter
And so on to the draw which will be headed by defending champion Luca Brecel who will be contesting one of eight matches held over to the final stages of the event. First up for the top seed will be rookie professional Joe O’Connor, who has so far won four matches on tour since coming through the EBSA Play-Offs back in April.
A recent semi-finalist at the 6-Red World Championship in Thailand, Brecel will be expected to progress although he has struggled to make a similar impact on the main tour in recent months, not progressing beyond the last 16 of a ranking event since last year’s Shanghai Masters. Victory against O’Connor would see him through to a second round match against Martin O’Donnell, with either Tom Ford or Nigel Bond awaiting the winner.
Other notable names in the section include a resurgent Marco Fu, who looks to be back to somewhere near his best form after a difficult start to the year following laser-eye surgery, as well as Liang Wenbo who with the prize money from his victory at the 2016 English Open soon to drop from his ranking is a player under pressure to deliver a strong performance in the near future.
In the lower half of the quarter, on paper last year’s beaten finalist Shaun Murphy looks to be the favourite to progress following the withdrawal of Kyren Wilson, however having himself recently become a father to Molly earlier this month and his subsequent withdrawal from the Shanghai Masters, it remains to be seen how this will affect his game.
First up for Murphy will be Liam Highfield, a repeat of their memorable meeting at last year’s UK Championship won 6-5 by the former triple crown winner, while the winner of Mark Davis and an in-form Xiao Guodong will await the winner in the last 32.
Also present in the section are Joe Perry and Mark Joyce who meet on Monday, while rising-star Lyu Haotian is already through to the third round having received a bye against Wilson.
The Second Quarter
Over in the second quarter of the draw we find old rivals Judd Trump and John Higgins on course for yet another head to head in the quarter-finals but who are the other 14 players looking to make sure that does not happen?
First up for Trump will be Scotland’s Rhys Clark who qualified for the tournament with an impressive 5-4 win against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, with either Jamie Jones or a returning to form Anthony Hamilton to come in the last 32. Last season proved to be a campaign to forget for former German Masters champion Hamilton but with eight wins already under his belt this term he could be a dark horse this week in Guangzhou.
Also in the section we have a second-round meeting of former world champions as 2002 Crucible king Peter Ebdon looks to follow up his recent run to the final of the Paul Hunter Classic with another strong performance against 2015 champion Stuart Bingham, while Yan Bingtao faces Chris Wakelin in another eye-catching match-up.
For John Higgins his campaign will begin with a fixture against Allan Taylor, with either Mei Xiwen or two-time ranking event winner Michael White to follow in the last 32. There is an all-Scottish encounter between Stephen Maguire and Scott Donaldson to come as well as a clash between Kurt Maflin and Jack Lisowski, the latter having enjoyed a particularly strong start to the season, reaching two quarter-finals and going all the way to the final in Riga.
The Third Quarter
Turning to the third segment of the draw we find world number one Mark Selby and home favourite Ding Junhui among the big guns looking to kickstart their seasons this week in Guangzhou.
Selby begins his latest quest with a match-up against Thailand’s Sunny Akani, their last meeting coming back at the 2016 Riga Masters which saw Selby take a deciding-frame victory. Either Rob Milkins, or the winner of a heldover match between Jimmy Robertson and wildcard Chang Bingyu will be next, while the likes of Ryan Day and World Open runner-up David Gilbert are also lurking in this section.
For Ding, a heldover match against Welsh veteran Lee Walker will be his first challenge and perhaps surprisingly it is Walker who holds a 2-0 lead in their career head-to-head with convincing victories against the 13-time ranking event winner at the 2015 Welsh Open and 2016 China Open tournaments.
Awaiting the winner will be another Welshman in Daniel Wells, while either of the highly-rated Alexander Ursenbacher or Yuan Sijun in the last 32. Another name to watch out for is Masters champion Mark Allen who will play Matt Selt first up, while Mark King faces Sam Craigie, the latter having knocked out Dominic Dale in qualifying to book his place at the venue.
The Bottom Quarter
And finally we turn to bottom section of the draw which of course contains reigning world champion Mark Williams, who will be the no.2 seed at each seeded event except those where he will be the defending champion.
Already a ranking event winner in China this season following his victory at the World Open in Yushan back in August, Williams begins his campaign in Guangzhou with a match against veteran Rod Lawler. If Williams can come through that he will face old foe Ken Doherty in a repeat of their famous UK and World Championship finals, with either Gary Wilson or reigning WSF Championship winner Luo Honghao in the last 32.
Ali Carter and Anthony McGill are other players not to be discounted at the very bottom of the draw, although McGill will begin with a tough opener against Zhao Xintong in the last 64.
In the opposite half of the section we find recent Shanghai Masters finalist Barry Hawkins looking to go one better in Guangzhou, who could meet Riga Masters winner Neil Robertson as early as the last 16 with the Australian currently outside of the world’s top eight ranked players in 10th position.
How to watch
The tournament gets underway tomorrow (Monday) and will be available to watch both on Eurosport- see UK listings HERE.
Let us know who you think will take the title in Guangzhou via Twitter @WPBSAofficial