THERE’S BEEN a fair bit of activity since the World Championship but television gave snooker the blood in its veins and so the first televised event of the season will mark the start of the new campaign for most.
We have Ding Junhui to thank for the Wuxi Classic. He’s from Wuxi City and this tournament was established off the back of his success, becoming a ranking event two years ago.
How did snooker repay him? By fining him £5,000 for missing a back-slapping awards evening and making him return from China to the UK to play a qualifying match in Gloucester, which he lost 5-0.
This is now one of the inequities which needs addressing: playing a round of a tournament in a completely different country to the one in which the final stages is played. Ding made his point in the week just gone by winning the first Asian Tour title of the season and there will surely be more silverware to follow.
But in Wuxi it will be someone else. Neil Robertson is the defending champion. He has a bye through to the last 32 because Alexander Ursenbacher of Switzerland has been unable to obtain a visa.
This is another issue which won’t go away. The circuit’s four Thai entrants could not get one to play the qualifying round in Gloucester. Iran’s Hossein Vafaei cannot get one to play in the UK full stop.
There have been times where players have simply filled in the forms incorrectly, or not in time, but it is usually some bureaucratic tangle which can’t be untangled in time, and it’s costing players money and points. In Ursenbacher’s case it means it does not get to play on TV against one of the world’s best, which would have been valuable experience for him.
Some top players will undoubtedly be a little rusty having not played much of late but a number were in the Yixing Open and of course there has already been a qualifying round.
It’s seven weeks since Mark Selby became world champion. He faces Robbie Williams or a wildcard.
Judd Trump faces David Grace of Leeds while Barry Hawkins starts out against Lee Page. It will be master v pupil when John Higgins plays Anthony McGill, with whom he has practised extensively.
The question is: can anyone from lower down the rankings break through, either in Wuxi or at all this season? If they can it will be lucrative. The top prize is £85,000 plus there’s a place in the Champion of Champions event up for grabs.
A busy season beckons once again. As in any sport, a good start breeds confidence. The Wuxi Classic will be a distant memory come the World Championship but it could mark a career high for the winner if they have never tasted victory before.
The Wuxi Classic is live on Eurosport. In the UK it will be shown on both channels, all starting on Monday at 7.30am.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.