Well after what has been a stuttering start to the 2014/15 season,consisting of three full ranking events and a few PTC's,things really begin to pick up pace over the next month with "China's Major" the International Championship starting things off next week in Chengdu.
This tournament of course is a relatively new one on the circuit,but from the outset with its format and prize money it is obviously hoped that in time it will become equivalent to the UK Championship in terms of stature in the game.
For this this to happen some would argue,as has been the case in its first two years,it needs to continue to be won by the sports biggest names,but two of our brightest stars wont be among those who line up next week having fallen victim to the qualifying round in Barnsley.
The first of these is defending champion Ding Junhui,who,just as was the case with the Wuxi Classic,failed to negotiate the round of 128. I do get the case for the flat draw system,but surely situations like we have here,where practically unknown local wildcards will be playing at the venue next week & China's number one will not cannot be good for the game. There must be a way around this that satisfies everyone.
The other noticeable absentee is our World Champion Mark Selby who uncharacteristically let a 4-0 lead slip against young Oliver Lines,going down in the end 6-4.This at the time was a major shock,but since then Lines,who is on tour courtesy of his victory in the European Under 21 Championship,has continued to make waves in his first season,following this up with a fine run in the Bulgarian Open and just this morning losing out to Stuart Bingham in the final APTC 2.It would appear,far from that win against Selby been a flash in the pan,that this is definitely a young man we will be hearing plenty more of in the coming yrs.
In the absence of Ding the top quarter looks on all recent form to be a shoot out between Stuart Bingham & Mark Allen.As iIve said already above Bingham this morning added APTC2 to the Shanghai Masters title he won last month, where incidentally in the final he beat Allen.These two are on course for a last 16 meeting here and it would surprise me if the winner of that clash didn't reach the semi final with perhaps only Michael White potentially throwing a spanner in the works.
Into the second quarter & with Ding & Selbys absence it was no doubt a relief to the organisers that Ronnie O'Sullivan managed to negotiate the first round and will cue up here on Sunday.He faces a potentially tricky opener against Ben Woollaston,but should he get through there "The Rocket" might start to fancy the job in a quarter of the draw that,if near his best,shouldn't pose many problems,albeit he may have to face to granite Scottish pair of McManus & Higgins.
Into the third quarter and it may well be a rematch of the 2012 final here with Robertson v Trump that decides it. Robertson,despite a victory in the Wuxi Classic,hasn't produced the consistent form that was his trademark last season just yet,but the season is still young and it will surely come. Trump also has an early season ranking title to his name from his victory in Australia, has rarely since reached the level he did in collecting this trophy two yrs ago.All that said though however this slightly longer format suits both these men and they should enjoy good runs here.
The fourth quarter in the absence of Selby is again an open one,but surely its wide open for Shaun Murphy,who has been brimming with confidence lately to make a real impact in this tournament with the main dangers to him perhaps been,Stephen Maguire,Marco Fu and that young man Oliver Lines who will be looking for a few more major scalps.
The action gets underway on Sunday with Eurosport providing extensive coverage all week.