Monday, 27 February 2012

Shining in Hainan

The World Open gets down to the proper business tomorrow.

With a £75,000 cheque up for grabs and to be played on Hainan Island, in China, there's no doubt this is a big event on the snooker calendar.

Unfortunately today's wildcard round ended in unfair elimination for Sam Baird and Nigel Bond. This only goes further to highlight how these preliminary round matches spoil the start of a professional ranking tournament.

I have nothing against Jin Long and Lu Ning, who won there matches today, but I can't help feel they haven't earned their place in the last 32 of the tournament. They've been given a win-win opportunity while their opponents have been dealt a duff hand.

Baird and Bond have both won their qualifying matches, flown for nearly a day to get here and have been sent packing early. They have every right to feel aggrieved.

I rarely criticise Barry Hearn. He has done more for snooker than I could probably ever have hoped in such a short period of time. But he talks about making the game a level-playing field for players throughout the rankings yet there's nothing level about this system enforcing an extra hurdle to the path of players outside of the top 16.

Michael Holt, Joe Perry, Mark King, Jimmy Robertson, Robert Milkins and Tom Ford were all lucky enough to come through the test but, in my opinion, it's one they should never have been made to overcome.

For years the wildcard rounds of tournaments have been in place to bring in punters, give local players the chance to face the professional players and enjoy some exposure for the country's rising names. That's all very well but my idea would be to add in a few exhibition matches before the first round instead of cruelly snatching away the opportunity other players have earned to play in the last 32 of a tournament on merit.

Ok, rant over. It's time for some 'proper' snooker.

The last 32 field is without Ronnie O'Sullivan and Ali Carter, who both pulled out on medical grounds. This means byes to the last 16 for Marcus Campbell and Ford.

Despite these two notable absentees, there's still plenty to look forward to.

This tournament is an important one as it's the time of the campaign the top guns start thinking about building momentum and form for the approaching World Championship.

There are several of the game's stars starting to crank it up. Ding Junhui arrives fresh from his Welsh Open triumph. That could be the catalyst he needs for the end-of-season run. Stephen Maguire and Shaun Murphy seem to be back on the right trail, Neil Robertson will still be confident from his recent Masters win and Mark Selby showed greater resolve in Newport.

I get the feeling Judd Trump and Mark Allen could come good again anytime soon while with the Crucible looming, maybe Mark Williams and John Higgins are getting ready for take off.

With the matches are set to be played over a best-of-nine frame format until the semi-final, before increasing to 11 and 19 thereafter, a few will be happier that the matches revert to a more traditional length for ranking events outside the top three.

It's great to be back in China too. Despite an opening day that has infuriated many, it's time to get serious again.

Bring it on.

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