Preview: The English Open
The Home Nations series gets under way on Monday with the first of its four tournaments in the United Kingdom and Ireland – the English Open.
The series was successfully launched last year, bringing more snooker to fans in the traditional home of the sport.
Tournament in Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales will follow and any player who could possibly manage the highly improbable feat of capturing the quartet of titles will be duly rewarded with an incredible one million pound bonus.
In reality, it’ll never happen, but if there was to be any sniff of an opportunity there are only maybe three or four players who could even flirt with the possibility.
By the end of next weekend in Barnsley, where the English Open has moved to for its second edition, only one cueist will have it in his power to accomplish the unlikely.
Liang Wenbo is the defending champion after beating Judd Trump in the 2016 final to claim a maiden ranking event trophy – memorably jumping with elation as he finally fulfilled his ambition.
The 30 year-old will face Duane Jones in the first round on the opening day of action over the best of seven frames, which will be the format used up until the quarter-finals.
All the marquee names have entered, with £70,000 on offer for the winner and of course the added hope of maybe being the last man remaining who can achieve the unbelievable come the next event in Belfast.
Trump lost in the final twelve months ago having just won the European Masters and the Englishman will enter this year’s competition the same away after defending his title in Belgium last week.
The former world number one has never won successive crowns before in his career and will get his campaign going with a tie against Robbie Williams.
Meanwhile, world champion Mark Selby has been struggling to rediscover the form this campaign that took him to a record-equalling five titles during the last term, but will look to get back to winning ways on home soil when he first takes on Scott Donaldson.
Indeed, after a jet-setting start to the 2016/17 season in which the players have travelled to Latvia, China, Germany, India, and Belgium, this is the first ranking tournament of the season in the UK.
Ronnie O’Sullivan will of course be among the favourites but will have to wait to see who his round of 128 opponent will be, as three preliminary matches are needed to allow for an entry list of 131.
The “Rocket” will play either Ian Burns or Zhang Anda while wildcard amateurs David Lilley and Joe O’Connor are among the others required to play in the mini qualifying stage.
As ever, it’s immensely difficult to predict these competitions due to both the short format in the early rounds and the huge number of contenders that there are these days in every event.
So far this season, the six ranking events have conjured up six different champions with Ryan Day, Luca Brecel, Michael White, John Higgins, Ding Junhui, and Trump all earning winners’ cheques.
It would neither be a surprise to see one of those names etched on the Steve Davis trophy on Sunday, or another adding to the list of champions from this year.
Interestingly, though, Day and Brecel clash in arguably the encounter of the first round.
Another intriguing contest pits left-handers Mark Allen and Jimmy White against each other, while Anthony McGill faces Michael Holt.
Irish veteran Ken Doherty will look to continue his fantastic resurgence when he meets Gerard Greene.
Fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien faces Liam Highfield, Josh Boileau is up against David Gilbert, while Leo Fernandez – returning from a suspension for spot fixing – tackles Mitchell Mann.