So the season starts here. Today saw the long-awaited draw for the first event of the 2011/12 Players Tour Championship published by World Snooker, together with a rather gruelling looking match schedule! Click below for a link to the draw, together with something of a preview of both this event and indeed the whole PTC season…
The Big Names
So first things first, how does the draw look for the fancied men? With the professionals coming in at the third round stage, reigning PTC champion Shaun Murphy will begin his campaign against either James Welsh, Leo Fernandez or Nick Jennings before possibly meeting Peter Ebdon in the following round.
World number one and defending PTC1 champion Mark Williams meanwhile begins against tour newcomer Li Yan with the winner of the clash between veteran duo Steve Davis and James Wattana next up. There will also be something of a baptism of fire for Thailand’s Dechawat Poomjaeng, drawn against world champion John Higgins with a potential clash with Ricky Walden awaiting in the following round.
What of Ronnie O’Sullivan I hear you ask? Under pressure to perform early this season due to the points set to be removed from his ranking following the removal of his 2009 Shanghai Masters points, Ronnie could begin his 2011/12 campaign against veteran Mike Hallett, with possibly Andy Hicks or namesake Sean O’Sullivan to follow.
The man to beat – John Higgins
Another legend under pressure this season will be Stephen Hendry and he has not been handed the kindest draw in the world with potentially either Kyren Wilson or Jak Jones first up. At a venue then Hendry would be a huge favourite against either youngster but as Stephen showed at times last season, his application at the PTC tournaments has not always been at the level required and he could be vulnerable here. With a season of professional snooker behind them, both Kyren and Jak will be keen to make it through what is one of the most intriguing round one matches. The pair actually met twice during the recent Q School, Kyren coming through a narrow winner on both occasions.
Another re-match in the offing is that between Judd Trump and David Gilbert, the two having met recently during the 2011 World Championship qualifiers. The pair will now meet again in Sheffield, though over the best of seven frames rather than 19. Judging by some of Judd’s tweets recently he has certainly been enjoying himself since his World Championship run while David demonstrated recently that he is in fine form having won several matches to come through the Q School. Could there be an early season upset on the cards here or will Judd pick up from where he left off in 2010/11?
Finally a word for the man who alongside Shaun Murphy last season probably supported the PTC series as much as anyone, Leicester’s Mark Selby. He begins this year’s campaign with a clash against one of David Bailey, Michael Wild, Zhang Anda or Ryan Causton.
The New Pros
As ever this season sees a number of new professionals join the circuit and one to watch during the coming seasons could be Sam Craigie who begins his campaign against Stoke Potter Dave Harold. While not a professional at presenter, Sam’s older brother Stephen is in the draw and faces Matt Selt in his opener.
There is also a tough test in store for the tour’s youngest ever professional Kacper Filipiak who faces veteran Scot Alan McManus in his opening match. It is somewhat scary to think that Kacper was not even born when Alan won the Masters title at Wembley back in 1994!
Former Paul Hunter Scholar Adam Duffy begins his maiden season on the tour against the experience Liu Song, with the likes of Liang Wenbo or Eden Sharav potentially waiting in the next round.
While not strictly new, there are a few faces returning to the circuit after some time away and Sam Baird and Tian Pengfei in particular have both been handed tough openers, facing Graeme Dott and Barry Hawkins respectively. Finland’s Robin Hull faces Jamie Burnett while India’s Aditya Mehta comes up against Northern Ireland’s Gerard Greene, potentially a World Cup warm-up match with their two nations having been paired in next month’s tournament.
Ones to watch
While many of the professionals may be familiar to you, who are some of the amateur players who might be worth keeping an eye on during this and subsequent events?
Those who (on paper at least), impressed during the recent Q School without quite making it onto the tour included Ian Burns, Gary Wilson, Joel Walker, Chen Zhe, Allan Taylor and Mitchell Mann, all of whom I think are capable of toppling some of the professional players on their day and making a run in one of these competitions.
Arguably stronger still are players such as Craig Steadman, David Gray, Kyren Wilson, Jak Jones, Zhang Anda and Joe Delaney, all professionals during recent seasons and will be hoping to get back into the big time via the end of season Order of Merit.
Perhaps lesser known men to watch include Ben Harrison who recently impressed in taking two frames from John Higgins and defeating Kyren Wilson at the recent Pink Ribbon tournament, as well as defeating the likes of Jamie O’Neill and Barry Pinches during the PTC last season. For more on Ben click here to read his recent interview with Snooker Island.
Kyren Wilson and Ben Harrison
Another who could be one to watch is former pro Andy Lee who I have heard good things about (I sound like John Virgo there), while 13-year-old Shane Castle is also rated extremely highly by those who have watched him. The same applies to young Sydney Wilson who I caught briefly at the Pink Ribbon, while Martin O’Donnell is currently flying during the ongoing European Championships in Bulgaria.
What all of this goes to show is that while there are players who are perhaps less well known than others, the depth in these events should not be underestimated and it will be interesting to see whether any of the amateur players can perform consistently enough to earn a place on the main tour for 2012/13 via the Players Tour Championship.