A season which began as far back as 11th May 2013 with the start of Q School is now into its final phase, with just three tournaments to be played between now and the end of the campaign.
Following a rare week off, which has given players, fans and bloggers alike the chance to draw breath ahead of traditionally the most anticipated part of the season, the action resumes on Tuesday with the start of the Players Championship Grand Finals, before the trip to Beijing and ultimately the World Championship in Sheffield…
- Click here to view the draw for the Players Championship Grand Finals
- Click here to view the draw for the China Open
- Click here to view the latest projected seedings list
- Click here to view the latest provisional money list
Players Championship Grand Finals (25-29 March 2014)
With anticipation building and many already focused on the all-important 2014 World Championship, which is now less than a month away, there is before that tournament the small matter of this season’s Players Championship Grand Finals to be decided.
The event, formerly known as the PTC Grand Finals, sees 24 players from the final European Tour Order of Merit, joined by a further eight from the Asian equivalent, battle it out over five days to win the £100,000 top prize. Perhaps surprisingly, this is an amount behind only the World, UK and International Championship events, which of course are all played over a far greater number of frames than this best of 7 frame tournament.
As far as the rankings are concerned, this is the final tournament to be played ahead of the seedings cut-off for the World Championship, a topic well-covered within my previous post here. Similarly, those involved in the lower half of the rankings will also be looking to earn vital pounds to contribute towards the money list, which you can keep track of here.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the event however is that it will see the return of professional snooker to the Guild Hall in Preston, for the first time since the 2005 Grand Prix. Originally scheduled to take place in Bangkok, in part for logistical reasons with the event sandwiched between the Haikou World Open and China Open events, the venue was recently switched due to political unrest in Thailand.
Though this is an inconvenience for some, particularly those who had already made travel arrangements for the trip to Thailand, it is fair to say that the return to Preston has proven to be a popular decision, Alan McManus and Michael Holt providing an endorsement on Twitter yesterday when I raised the subject, while fans alike are happy with the news.
It is a venue that I have not yet been to, but even from just reading this piece at Inside Snooker which looks back at five classic matches at the venue, it is hard not to get a sense of the history of the Guild Hall. One pointed noted by McManus is that the venue has permanent seating, which is always preferable from a spectator point of view, while Alan also noted that the UK’s first ever KFC is situated close to the venue. Now that is knowledge.
The draw for the tournament itself is an interesting one as touched upon previously here and one that is arguably a touch bottom heavy on paper, but is full of both quality and in-form players.
Among those lesser known players who will be in action, China’s 31-year-old Ju Reti, who earlier this season became the first amateur to win a tournament carrying ranking points will make his UK début against Judd Trump, while 16-year-old prodigy Lyu Haotian will also continue his snooker education with a match against two-time world champion Mark Williams.
The tie of the opening round though is unquestionably that between world number one Neil Robertson and recent Haikou World Open winner Shaun Murphy, who meet at the last 32 stage due to the fact that Robertson did not finish inside the top 16 on the combined Order of Merit.
Will anyone be able to land a psychological blow upon Ronnie O’Sullivan however, as he plays his final tournament ahead of the latest defence of his world title?
China Open (31 March – 6 April 2014)
Just two days on from the conclusion of the action in Preston we will see the start of this year’s China Open in Beijing, the event won last season by Neil Robertson.
A significant event in its own right, it is somewhat unfortunate that the China Open can feel overshadowed by the looming World Championship and there had been some speculation as to whether more players might join defending world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan in electing to sit out the tournament, so close to the Crucible.
Though there were a few noises, Mark Selby being one name who has said that he had considered opting out on Beijing, aside from O’Sullivan, the remaining top players will be making the trip to Beijing and looking to take home the title.
There is always some debate as to whether winning the tournament is necessarily the best preparation for the World Championship, indeed nobody has completed the China-Crucible double since Beijing was added to the calendar in 2005 and it is arguable that winning the tournament did not do Neil Robertson any favours last season as he subsequently crashed out of the World Championship at the first round stage.
The last player to complete the season with back-to-back ranking event titles was John Higgins back in 1998, while he also won his third world title 11 years later having reached the final in Beijing.
As far as the draw itself is concerned, with Robertson and Selby in opposite halves, we could have a repeat of their final 12 months ago, though there will be plenty of other players hoping that will not be the case.
There will be four wildcard matches in Beijing, with Yu Delu, Luca Brecel, John Astley and Sam Baird the professionals unfortunate enough to have to play an extra match at this event.
World Championship (8-16 April 2014 (Q), 19 April 2014 – 5 May 2014)
And from there we head to the World Championship, with the qualifiers set to be staged at a new venue in Sheffield between 8-16 April 2014, before the main event gets underway just three days later.
As ever, the tournament as a whole promises much and for those further down the list will see the battle for tour cards and Crucible spots reach its climax, while the big names will be hoping to deny Ronnie O’Sullivan a hat-trick of world titles and his sixth in all.
A more detailed preview of the tournament will follow the publication of the draw, which in the case of the qualifiers should follow the PCGF in a couple of week’s time.
Who would your money be on for the three tournaments?