THE INDIAN OPEN, which starts on Tuesday, represents a real chance for players not usually in contention for trophies to land a ranking title.
A number of star names have stayed away as they juggle a very busy schedule. So among the non-entrants were Mark Selby, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy and Barry Hawkins.
With so much else going on in March, this is entirely understandable as players at the top of the ranking list are not so reliant on ranking points. The event had originally been due to have been played last October but was postponed, with World Snooker citing a clash with state elections.
Ding Junhui, the defending champion, is in Mumbai, as is Judd Trump and top 16 players such as Marco Fu, Joe Perry, John Higgins, Ricky Walden and Mark Williams.
But there are also many other players eyeing a chance to secure some silverware and, in some cases, keep their professional status.
We’re now approaching a critical time of the season. At the end of the China Open in April, the seedings will be set for the World Championship. The most interesting aspect of this is who is going to be seeded through to the Crucible – the top 15 plus Carter – and who will miss out.
This race for a place in the televised stage seems to have focused the minds of both Higgins, who recently won the Welsh Open, and Williams, a semi-finalist in Cardiff and runner-up in Gdynia.
Thus, Higgins heads to India now in 12th place in the world rankings with Williams 15th. Stephen Maguire, currently 14th, is also unexpectedly in the mix but he has not entered the Indian Open.
The main chasers are Robert Milkins (16th) and Graeme Dott (17th) but there’s £50,000 available for winning the Indian title, which could propel someone else into contention.
There have been problems with some players obtaining a visa. Ali Carter is, so far, the only player confirmed to have withdrawn for this reason.
India is snooker’s spiritual home. It was invented there by British army officers in 1875 and is a country with a deep love of cue sports, billiards chiefly but snooker too.
Last season, their own Aditya Mehta (pictured) reached the final, beating his compatriot Pankaj Advani in the quarter-finals. Advani, one of the all-time greats of billiards, has now quit full time snooker but will play as a wildcard. Thankfully for the tournament, Mehta qualified.
The field is made up of 64 players plus six wildcards. Many would argue this is too many matches for a five day event. Matches are best of seven with the final only best of nine, too short for a ranking tournament.
But whoever wins will not care. Any tournament these days is tough to win and the cut-throat nature of the format makes this one no different. There is also prestige associated with securing a title in the country where snooker began life.
There is no television coverage outside India but the event is streamed live on liveworldsnooker.tv and associated betting websites.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.