The Crucible casts a long shadow in the snooker world and, three weeks until the World Championship, it’s inevitable that the 17 day marathon becomes more prominent in the thoughts of players, officials and fans.
But first it’s the China Open, a fine event in its own right, which starts in Beijing tomorrow and is worth £85,000 to the eventual winner a week today.
The same people who once moaned that there weren’t enough tournaments now complain that there are too many. Well, nobody is forced to play/attend/watch/tweet (delete as applicable).
OK, the travelling schedule is not ideal, but this is because the Players Championship finals were switched from Bangkok to the UK for reasons outside World Snooker’s control. But the success of any sport is measured by the demand for it. And Chinese sponsors put more money into snooker than those anywhere else.
The tournament before the World Championship has traditionally been overshadowed by it. The British Open was, the Scottish Open was and now the China Open is. It doesn’t help that the seedings cut-off for the Crucible came last night after the Players Championship finals rather than next Sunday following the Beijing finale.
However, it’s worth remembering most of the players at the China Open won’t be at the Crucible. So this will be a big week for many.
The 2005 China Open remains one of the best tournaments I’ve ever attended. It was won by Ding Junhui the week he turned 18, a sensational result which capped a truly great week. Travel broadens the mind if you care to leave the hotel and look around. As I write this I’m looking at some ornaments I bought from hawkers at the Great Wall, an extraordinary structure a trip to which made the whole week worthwhile (inevitably, one of them broke immediately when I got home to the less exotic environs of Birmingham and dropped it in my kitchen).
Players often prefer not to venture too far from the hotel/venue but this is understandable in some ways because they want to be in the mind-set of tournament play, with its routine of practising/playing. But there is a world outside of the eternal 12 by 6 and foreign trips afford the chance to experience it.
There have been some withdrawals. Stuart Bingham has a family funeral. Stephen Maguire has cited a bad back. Tony Drago’s reason has not been disclosed.
Some top stars look like they’ve overplayed already this season. Mark Selby had nothing to give at Preston and admitted at the Welsh Open that he’d rather have not entered the China tournament.
Neil Robertson looked unwell in Preston and may have preferred the week off, century record notwithstanding.
But just as interesting as to who will win the title is who will stay on the tour next season, and the China Open will play a huge part in this. The excellent Prosnookerblog has a full breakdown of the various scenarios.
Jimmy White is in the thick of this and will feature in Eurosport’s first transmission at 7am UK time on Monday. White faces Ireland’s Davy Morris, a quarter-finalist in the Wuxi Classic at the start of the season. The second programme, at 12.30pm, features Robertson against Anthony Hamilton.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.