The first major ranking event of the new snooker season gets underway in China on Monday, with the Wuxi Classic being the first big pay-out of the campaign.
The tournament also heralds the new changes brought into the sport by World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn, where all players enter from the first qualifying round.
In the past, players higher up the rankings were seeded through qualifying, thus meaning the higher up the rankings you were, the less matches you needed to win. The top 16 players in the world used to gain automatic qualification to the major events, but that is a thing of the past for the majority of events this season.
Big upsets will and have already happened, with world number two Mark Selby a notable absentee from the 64 players through to the main event, having lost his qualifying match 5-3 to Andrew Pagett.
Shaun Murphy was also a victim in the qualifying round, which was held back in May, after being defeated 5-1 by Alex Davies, who now faces 19-year-old Joel Walker on Monday evening.
Another notable story ahead this year’s Wuxi Classic is that Reanne Evans has become the first woman to qualify for a full ranking World Snooker event.
The nine-times women’s World Championship winner isn’t even a professional player but gained a spot in the qualifying round as a number of professional players chose not to enter the tournament.
She defeated Thai player Thepchaiya Un-Nooh in the qualifying round but unfortunately for her, must first beat Zhu Yinghui in the controversial wildcard round. If she can do that, the prize is a match against world number one Neil Robertson on Tuesday.
The Australian is favourite to win the tournament, with Boylesports offering the best odds of 11/2.
Ricky Walden is the tournament’s defending champion although he only just made it through qualifying, scraping past Indian Pankaj Advani 5-4.
He defeated Stuart Bingham 10-4 in the final this year and begins the defence of his title against the perennial Jimmy White and he is 4/11 on with Paddy Power to progress into the last 32. That match is live on British Eurosport from 7:30am on Monday.
Walden is in the form of his life at the moment and is up to his highest ever world ranking of number eight, having reached the semi-finals of the World Championship in May. However, many bookies have the Chester man down as an outsider to defend his title, with Sportingbet providing the best odds of 28/1.
Judd Trump is second favourite with most bookies to win the tournament and he faces Chinese player Li Hang in the last 64. Paddy Power are offering 15/2 for Trump to lift the trophy on Sunday.
Home hero Ding Junhui is 10/1 with Stan James to take the first major ranking event of the season. However, Ding seems to struggle with handling the pressure with an arena full of Chinese fans willing him on. In fact, he has not won an event on China since 2005, when he made his break-through, winning the China Open that year.
A player I fancy for the title is John Higgins. After a disastrous season last time around, the Scot has chosen to use a new cue and it seemed to do him the world of good as he stormed to the Bulgaria Open title a few weeks ago. Boylesports are offering 11/1 for the four-times word champion to win this year’s Wuxi Classic.
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