Tuesday sees the start of the 2016 Indian Open with Welshman Michael White set to head the field following his maiden ranking success a year ago. Read on for my preview of the second full-ranking event of the new season…
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Previously held in New Delhi and Mumbai, this year the Indian Open moves on to Hyderabad and a new summer slot early in the snooker calendar. As with the recent Riga Open, the event sees a 64 player field plus wildcards (six this time), head to the country where snooker was born, hoping to join Neil Robertson as a tournament winner this season.
Unlike in Riga, the event will be held over five days rather than three, with matches being played over the best of seven frames up to and including the semi-finals, increasing to nine (with an interval this time), for the final. There will be four tables used up to and including the last 16, reducing to two for the quarter-finals and one to the end of the event.
2013 finalist Mehta returns to the tour
There will be eight top 16 players in action, Stuart Bingham, Shaun Murphy and Ricky Walden from the top eight. As well as defending champion Michael White, there is also a welcome professional return for India’s sole professional and 2013 runner-up Aditya Mehta, who will play in his first professional match since last December.
Already a day before the tournament there have been some results, with three players receiving walkovers. One is Robbie Williams following the withdrawal of Belgium’s Luca Brecel, while local wildcards Ishpreet Chadha and Dilip Kumar will progress at the expense of Fraser Patrick and Hamza Akbar.
To the draw…
The Top Quarter
Top seed at a ranking event for the first time in his career, Michael White will be hoping for more success in India this week having slipped down to 19th in the world rankings following the Riga Masters. He had a disappointing end to last season following his quarter-final run at the Welsh Open but came through a challenging season opener 5-4 against Anthony Hamilton to qualify for the World Open. By a quirk of the draw, the two will now meet first up in India, the last 128 match having being held over to the venue stages.
The winner will face Scotland’s Eden Sharav, with one of Gary Wilson or Zhao Xintong awaiting in the last 32, Zhao having knocked out 33rd seeded Tom Ford to qualify. Elsewhere in the section, experienced duo Robin Hull and Mark Davis meet in another tough match to call. Davis struggled last season to repeat the form that he has shown in recent years and has slipped to 40th in the provisional end of season rankings, but has started the season well to qualify for all three of the events so far this term. A clash with either Jamie Burnett or Akani Songsermsawad awaits whoever can come through that one, the young Thai competing at the venue stages of a ranking event for the first time in his career.
White to defend India title
In the other half of this quarter, Kyren Wilson and Martin Gould fly the flag for the top 16, Wilson back in action following his enforced absence from the Riga Masters following a blood clot scare. He begins with a match against Martin O’Donnell, who showed significant improvement last season from his first spell on the main tour and will be looking to continue his progress to a top 64 spot later in the season.
We also find home hope Aditya Mehta here, who as already mentioned returns to the tour for the first time in six months, albeit with a tough opener against the steadily improving Jimmy Robertson. The winner of that clash will face Xiao Guodong, who showed good form in Riga following a poor 2015/16 season by his standards.
As for Gould, first up will be Allan Taylor, ahead of a clash against either Jamie Jones or Thai veteran James Wattana, who rolled back the years in qualifying to knock out the high-scoring Kurt Maflin.
The Second Quarter
In the second quarter of the draw we find Marco Fu and Ricky Walden, both of course former winners of ranking events outside of the UK and in Walden’s case, runner-up in India to White only last year.
On paper Fu’s path could see him face wildcards in his opening two matches, with Dilip Kumar first up ahead of a match with either Dominic Dale or Ishpreet Chada. Close by in this section are fixtures between Duane Jones and Liam Highfield, as well as Peter Ebdon and Zhou Yuelong, just the 27 years of age separating the latter two! In fact Ebdon and Zhou met the last time the Indian Open was held, Ebdon coming through a 4-2 winner. Looking at his draw he will sense an opportunity to run deep into the tournament if he can produce his best form.
For Walden meanwhile, an potential banana skin opener against 50-year-old Nigel Bond, who was so impressive at the World Championship qualifiers in April before running into Ding Junhui, while the winner will take on either Sam Baird or Jack Lisowski.
Also in the section are Ryan Day, Riga quarter-finalist John Astley and Robbie Williams, the latter having achieved a career-best semi-final in India back in 2013.
The Third Quarter
Turning to the bottom half of the draw and we find the third seeded Shaun Murphy, playing at his first venue of the season after missing out on the Riga Masters. His draw sees him up against Welshman Daniel Wells first up, with the winner in line to face either Michael Georgiou or Dechawat Poomjaeng in the last 32.
Further ahead, another former world champion Graeme Dott could await, if not Oliver Lines, Mitchell Mann or Andrew Higginson (wildcard permitting in Higginson’s case).
In the other half of this section, Mark Williams will be looking to build upon his recent semi-final run in Riga with an opening round win against Zhang Yong, although the 20-year-old from China has caught the eye recently with some impressive results as he begins his second season on tour. Awaiting the winner will be either Mike Dunn or David Lilley, the latter having won his first match back on tour 4-3 against Tian Pengfei to qualify.
Also in the section we find a match between tour veterans Joe Swail and Jimmy White, who have a combined age of exactly 100, while Robert Milkins will be looking to repeat a 5-0 win against Stuart Carrington at last year’s China Open qualifiers.
The Bottom Quarter
Moving on to the final section and former world champion Stuart Bingham is the highest ranked player in the draw, with Steven Hallworth first up for him in Hyderabad. For the fellow rankings affectionados out there, Bingham cannot overtake world number one Mark Selby this week, even if he were to win the tournament in the Jester’s absence.
A clash with either Matthew Stevens or Mark Joyce will await the winner, with potentially either Anthony McGill or Matt Selt ahead if the last 64 were to go in accordance with seeding. In fact McGill could be one to watch this week as not only did he reach his first ranking event quarter-final in India back in 2013, but he also reached the last eight in Riga last month and will be one of a number of players eyeing a real breakthrough this week.
Elsewhere, Barry Hawkins, now down to his lowest ranking position for a few years in 14th will be looking to rebuild with an opening round win against amateur Ashley Hugill, with Mark King or Rory McLeod awaiting the winner.
Finally, Stephen Maguire and Alfie Burden meet in a repeat of their relatively recent China Open quarter-final, while Elliot Slessor will take on new professional Fang Xiongman also in the last 64.
How to watch
The action this week will be available live on Eurosport Player, while those of you in India can watch on Sony Six.
Let me know who you think will come out on top in Hyderabad on Twitter @prosnookerblog or @wpbsaofficial