IT IS an important week for the Shanghai Masters, in more ways than simply what is produced on the table in the biggest tournament of the season to date.
The event has come to symbolise everything that is good about snooker in China, from the way the players are feted, to the top-notch promotion and marketing, loyal and generous backers and through to the high standard of play and generally excellent conditions.
This year marks the last in the current deal, though there is an option for the staging to be continued which it seems both sides would like to exercise, subject to a week of negotiations.
WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson and World Snooker commercial director Miles Pearce will be busy all week, and it is no coincidence that World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn flies in for the final.
Shanghai and Australia, of course, were the two tournaments that with deals and contracts in place rejected the request from Hearn to change the format to 128 players in at the first round, with a qualifier in the UK. And this may prove the only sticking point – but a big one.
When Hearn first proposed the 128 system, there were certain hopes and goals. One of those was that a cut-throat format would produce shocks, stories, and multiple new names to conjure with.
It could be argued that with the possible exception of the 2013 UK Championship and Mitchell Travis, in admittedly the most high-profile event used for the 128 and where all the players were gathered at a single venue rather than a qualifying round elsewhere, that this has not occurred.
Hearn made this a central plank of his strategy and persuaded organisers in Wuxi, Chengdu, Hainan and Beijing to fall into line – but Shanghai wanted their guaranteed stars, qualifiers and wildcards, and they got it.
Now Hearn will go back and try again – and assuming the will to renew is there in all other respects there could be a decision to be made if the organisers refuse to accept the 128 format. Would World Snooker drop the event, or would they compromise?
Inside Snooker would make a (small) wager that if switching from a draw of 32 with 16 seeds straight through, plus wildcards, to a field of 64 and the risk of the biggest names falling at the first hurdle, proved a deal-breaker – the contract would get signed to keep the tournament in Shanghai even at the expense of going against what is being done elsewhere.
The same would be predicted for any dispute over the continued use of wildcards, although here the case is much weaker as they have long since served their purpose in China.
And though that might provoke some howls of inconsistency that would seem better than the alternative of losing such a marquee event. The Shanghai Masters isn’t one of those events that looks tired and in need of shaking up – so if it isn’t broken, why fix it?
Then again, as one insider said, “You just never know what the big BH is going to do.” Which is why it would only be a small wager.
Photographs courtesy of World Snooker