Preview of European Masters 2017
The players head to Belgium on Monday for the first ranking event in the country in 23 years. The European Masters, which was staged in Romania twelve months ago, moves to Lommel for the first time with £75,000 on offer for the champion next Sunday.
This event represents the sixth ranking event of a globetrotting season that has already seen the circuit head to Latvia, China, Germany, and India.
The first ranker on UK soil takes place next week with the English Open kicking off the potentially lucrative Home Nations series.
For the European Masters, a high-quality field of 67 will assemble with the hope of acquiring some silverware.
Belgium last played host to a full ranking event during a four-year stint in the early 1990s staging the European Open, but there were also three Antwerp Opens in the Players Tour Championship pro-am series between 2011 and 2013.
Judd Trump, who won the first of those Antwerp Opens when he defeated Ronnie O’Sullivan in a memorable final in front of a huge crowd, returns as the European Masters champion having similarly denied the “Rocket” in a decider in 2016.
Trump is one of three top 16 players who have had their qualifying round encounters held over to the main arena, the other two being world champion Mark Selby and home favourite Luca Brecel.
It couldn’t possibly be a better time for Brecel to be heading back to his own country and become the poster boy for a big ranking event there.
Only a couple of months ago, the 22 year-old captured his maiden crown at the China Championship and has continued that form up until recently with another semi-final appearance in China at the World Open last week.
Brecel will have to carry a sizable weight of expectation and promise on his young shoulders but the “Bullet”, always a confident sort of player, must surely be breathing an even greater air of conviction following success this season that has helped him get closer to the very elite.
That said, Brecel faces a tricky preliminary round fixture as he takes on Sam Craigie over the best of seven frames on the opening day of action.
Indeed, every round up until semi-final hurdle will be contested over the short format, before an increase to eleven frames, and finally a best of 17 frame decider.
Stars O’Sullivan and Ding Junhui are among those who didn’t enter this event, but along with Selby, Trump, and Brecel, the likes of Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Kyren Wilson, and Mark Williams are all in the fray.
The latter is faced with one of the more difficult last 64 clashes, with the Welshman set to be challenged by teenage talent Yan Bingtao, while Yan’s World Cup partner Zhou Yuelong battles with Oliver Lines.
Another potentially intriguing early tie has Northern Ireland’s Mark Allen, beginning to show glimpses of a long-awaited return to some form, up against fellow former world amateur champion Hossein Vafaei.
If Selby emerges from his initial test with Mark Joyce, the world number one will play Zhao Xintong while Indian Open runner-up Anthony McGill meets veteran Joe Swail.
Ireland’s Ken Doherty is also in action and will be looking to continue his resurgence against Jak Jones.