The man of the season so far is no doubt Judd Trump.Last month he lifted the inaugural International Championship in China and with it claimed the world no.1 ranking.He comes here in great form and will no doubt be fully confident he can defend the title he claimed here last year in that memorable final with Mark Allen.On paper at least he seems to be in the slightly easier half of the draw if there is such a thing and I would be surprised if he isn't right there in the mix at the business end next weekend.
Perhaps the other story of the season to date has been the resurgence of John Higgins.After last years struggles there were those who were willing to write off the Scot but by now we should know better then that,He beat Trump in Shanghai in one of the best finals we have seen in many years and those two have swapped victories in two PTC events since. Whoever beats Higgins this week will know they have been in a match and he will fancy his chances of adding to his career haul of three UK titles.
It may be strange for Mark Selby to be coming into a major tournament without the World no.1 ranking but following his neck injury and loss of form this is where he finds himself.I actually think this may help him as I feel it may have been a mantle he struggled under.Now seemingly injury free hopefully he can return to the level of play that saw him reach the number 1 spot in the first place.If he does he will a match for anyone.He will however have to hit the ground running here as his potential second round opponent is two time UK champion Ding Junhui.
If anyone needed proof what winning a tournament can do for a player all they need do is look at Stuart Bingham.18 month's ago he had carved out a moderately successful professional career without ever really threatening to lift a title but that changed when he produced a stunning comeback to beat Mark Williams and claim the Australian Open title.That victory earned him a place in this years Premier League where against some of the biggest names he produced some super snooker to eventually lift the title beating Trump 7-2 in the final.This win together with the two Asian PTC wins he has already secured this season will have him fearing noone this week.
Last years runner up Mark Allen will be another man fancying his chances this week and he definatly seems to be a player who really relishes the longer framed matches. He was arguably the second best player in the International Open where he once again found Judd Trump too good in their quarter final encounter going down in a decider.He will no doubt feel he should have more titles to his name for the talent he possesses and there would be no better time to start then this week
Other established names in the mix this week will be Stephen Maguire,Neil Robertson and Shaun Murphy all of which could make an impact this if accompanied by a strong tail wind.
We also have a few young guns making their first appearance at the final stages of this tournament.We have Cao Yupeng and Luca Brecel following up their qualification for the Crucible last year by making their debuts here as well as Jack Lisowski .all of whom will gain from the experience regardless of how they do.
It would also wrong for me to preview this event without mentioning Steve Davis who came through two rounds of qualifying to reach the final stages at the age of 55 and 32 years after he lifted the first of his six UK titles.Long may The Nugget continue his love of the battle.
So there we have it.A fascinating we have in store and no doubt there will be plenty of thrills and spills along the way.Who will win?I don't know but I have a feeling the theme of the season may well be continued with another Trump v Higgins final.What a way that would be to see out 2012.