It’s back to Beijing this week for the China Open, the last event before the World Championship.
Because of this, there will inevitably be much talk of the Crucible, but the China Open deserves to stand in its own right.
It was in Beijing eight years ago that Ding Junhui won the tournament the week he turned 18.
The interest this generated has led to five ranking events in China this season. The 2005 tournament had been cobbled together after a gap of three years because the game was going through financial problems. Things have certainly changed.
They’ve changed for Ding too. Back then, he was a young lad without a care in the world. Since his triumph he has been under endless scrutiny in his homeland and his performances in China suggest that this has often been too much to bear.
However, Ding’s terrific display at the PTC Grand Finals last week proves what a great player he is.
He would be a popular winner this week but, as ever, it’s wide open. Peter Ebdon defends the title he dramatically won last year in a slow burning final against Stephen Maguire.
Ebdon changed his cue earlier this season. The experiment didn’t work and he’s changed back. He’s out of form but he was when he won last season and, for that matter in Beijing in 2009.
Judd Trump’s form has been patchy since he lost in the first round of the UK Championship last December. He did reach the semi-finals of the Welsh Open but was a first round loser in Galway.
On the other hand, Mark Allen has looked really good these last few weeks. He won the World Open and did little wrong in losing to Ding in the PTC Grand Finals.
Not much has been seen of Shaun Murphy in recent tournaments. He will be looking for a pre-Crucible boost.
Maguire won the Welsh Open so his confidence is up while John Higgins seems inconsistent at present and his performances are hard to predict.
Mark Selby last week confirmed he had broken up with his long time manager, Mukesh Parmar. The two were close and it remains to be seen whether this will affect Selby on the table.
With Mark Joyce having withdrawn after becoming a father, wildcard Lu Haotian, a fine young talent, faces Mark Williams in the first round, a fascinating match-up considering Williams’s struggle for form of late.
Day one features two televised first round matches: Graeme Dott v Marco Fu and Maguire v Michael Holt plus two TV matches in the wildcard round, Liang Wenbo v Lu Ning and Anthony McGill v an Iranian, Heydari Ehsan.
I thought the point of Chinese wildcards was to promote Chinese snooker. This begs the question: why put an Iranian on TV instead?