This week sees the return of the popular Paul Hunter Classic tournament from Fuerth, the event now upgraded to full-ranking status following Ali Carter’s memorable victory at the Stadhalle a year ago.
Today I take a look at some of the points to note about the event and how the draw is shaping up in what is the fourth ranking event of the season so far.
The Paul Hunter Classic has always been a special event on the snooker calendar, from its first staging as a pro-am event back in 2004 when Hunter himself claimed the title, to Ali Carter’s emotional win a year ago. This season however the event marks another significant milestone as it has been upgraded to full-ranking event status, following the end of the European Tour after the 2016 Gdynia Open.
That said, the format will be a familiar one to those who have followed snooker in recent years, the traditional European Tour set-up of three professional days, preceded by a couple of amateur qualifying rounds very much back in action.
Prize money also remains the same as last season with the winner taking home £18,750. This, combined with the fact that the event is followed by the qualifiers for the Shanghai Masters at which the top 16 will not be involved, has resulted in a number of those players deciding to enjoy an extended summer break and not to make the trip to Germany.
Adding extra intrigue is the fact that there were no seedings in place for the tournament draw, meaning that the spread of the seven top 16 players that have entered is not as you would expect. With two quarters of the draw housing just one top 16 player each for example, there is a real prospect of one of the lower ranked players making a breakthrough this week.
Already we know of a couple of walkover results from the professional rounds, with Ryan Day and Zhang Anda already through to the last 64 at the expense of Peter Ebdon and Darryl Hill respectively.
The tournament also marks the second seedings revision of the new season, with key positions still to be determined ahead of the European Championship and International Championship qualifiers next month. Notable matches will be referenced below, however for in-depth analysis please see my preview from earlier in the week.
For the first time there will also be a world ladies ranking event held alongside the event. To learn more about the WLBS Paul Hunter Ladies Classic please visit www.wlbsl.com
The Top Quarter
With the entirely random first round draw, the top of the draw is not headed up by defending champion Ali Carter, but instead by a tie between Anthony Hamilton and Chinese youngster Zhou Yuelong.
In terms of the top 16 ranked players, there are just two players in this section with world number one Mark Selby and Ricky Walden present, while Liang Wenbo, Ryan Day and Mark Davis are also present.
For Selby, he will begin with a match against an amateur qualifier, with either Martin O’Donnell or Elliot Slessor next up and potentially Ryan Day between him and making it through to Sunday’s last 16. Further ahead could be a clash with Chinese number two Liang Wenbo, while Sam Baird, who of course Selby defeated on his way to a second Crucible crown earlier this year, could also await him in the draw.
Elsewhere, a potential re-match of the 2011 IBSF World Amateur Championship is set to take place in the opening round, Lee Walker attempting to avenge his 10-9 defeat to Hossein Vafaei Ayouri five years ago now. Ricky Walden gets underway against Ireland’s Josh Boileau, who will be seeking his first professional win during his rookie season.
Finally, another match to watch on paper could be that between Luca Brecel and Liam Highfield, a repeat of their match at this year’s World Championship qualifiers, won 10-8 by Highfield.
The Second Quarter
The headline name from the second section is defending champion Ali Carter, with 27th ranked Robert Milkins the next highest player present.
Carter will begin his title defence against an amateur player, knowing that an opening round victory would be enough to see him retain a top 16 seeding for both the European and International Championship events. Beyond that, either Mark Joyce or Noppon Saengkham wait in the last 64, with potentially Alfie Burden on Friday evening.
Other names to watch out for include Riga finalist Michael Holt and Ben Woollaston who could meet in the third round, while Xiao Guodong has shown improved form early this season as he looks to cement his place on tour after a torrid 2015/16 campaign.
There is also an interesting match in store between Rod Lawler and Mitchell Mann, Lawler another in need of a strong season to stay on tour, while Mann of course enjoyed success at European Tour events last season and seems to be a fan of the format.
Finally, the section will also see a tour debut for Thailand’s Kritsanut Lertsattayatthorn, who will begin against amateur opposition.
The Third Quarter
On paper arguably the strongest section of the draw with three top 16 ranked players, the third section is also bolstered by the likes of Anthony McGill and Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, who have already enjoyed considerable success this season.
In fact the very top of the quarter is awash with mouth-watering ties, with the winner of Oliver Lines and Kurt Maflin set to face McGill in the second round, with either Martin Gould, Un-Nooh (who is chasing a top 32 spot), or Dechawat Poomjaeng awaiting in the third.
Another potential stand out is a last 64 clash between Northern Ireland duo and close friends Mark Allen and Joe Swail, while Kyren Wilson takes on Jimmy Robertson in another strong opening round match.
There could also be a second round re-match between Joe Perry and Robbie Williams, who some may recall met at last season’s UK Championship, Williams getting the better of his higher ranked opponent on that day.
The Bottom Quarter
Rounding off the draw is a second section housing just one top 16 player, with 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham taking that honour. The biggest name between him and making it to Sunday looks to be International Championship runner-up David Gilbert, who is set to face him in the last 32 should both progress.
Elsewhere, 2016 Crucible semi-finalist Alan McManus is also present, but with those three representing the only top 32 ranked players in the quarter, again there looks to be a real chance for some of the lower ranked players to make an impact.
The likes of John Astley and Nigel Bond for example have already enjoyed impressive starts to the season, while it would be no surprise to see players like Mark King, Jamie Jones and Tom Ford string a run together if they can build some confidence.
How about the likes of Thor Chuan Leong and Hamza Akbar? Both have performed well under the radar in recent months and could be players to keep an eye on.
How to watch
The action from the Paul Hunter Classic this week will be available live on Eurosport Player.
Let me know who you think will come out on top in Fuerth on Twitter @prosnookerblog