Sunday, 24 June 2012

It all starts in Wuxi

The season is about to get serious.

Tomorrow sees the return of televised ranking event snooker with the start of the Wuxi Classic.

Previously an invitational event, this tournament returns for a fifth season in succession but has now earned its place as a fully-fledged ranking event. It carries a good batch of ranking points, offers a £75,000 top prize and as a result is more importance than ever before.

Stories like this show just how important it is for top players to support new events and help them go into much bigger, money-making tournaments.

It's crazy to think that we're still only in June and snooker is very much back on our radar. While we've still had plenty of action to enjoy since the lights went down at the Crucible with QSchool, qualifying and APTC1, this is where the action really begins and the big names come back into the fold.

Ronnie O'Sullivan and John Higgins chose not to enter and Matthew Stevens pulled out this week with a back problem. But minus these three, we're at full strength with the game's top stars all hoping to hit the ground running for the new campaign.

Among those bidding to lift the title is defending champion Mark Selby. He beat Ali Carter 9-7 in last season's final and will be looking for a quick start to remedy a poor World Championship.

Injury restricted his practice time in the build-up the Crucible and in the end he was easily beaten by Barry Hawkins in the first round, and faces him again here as he looks to get back on the track.

The seven-week break may have flown by but no-one will be more refreshed than young Judd Trump. He's been enjoying his summer in style as he jetted off to Dubai. I think it's important with such a snooker schedule calendar these days that top players, especially someone so young, know how to take time away from the game.

I admire Judd for the way he works hard on the table but also that he knows how to play hard as well. He's got the balance just right. While he didn't start the season too well last year, he's a year older and wiser and should be right in the frame here.

Big things are expected of Neil Robertson's this season. He'd dearly love a trophy at the first time of asking but hasn't yet produced his best in China, and is yet to win an Asian trophy. I'd expect that to change at some point, and this tournament could be it.

In contrast, Mark Williams has always been good at transferring his form overseas. He's won five ranking events in Asian territory and, although he loves his home comforts, is good at getting on with the job in hand.

If you're looking at the form guide for a winner, go no further than Stuart Bingham. He's already landed two trophies this season and will be in confident mood for more.

Shaun Murphy is worth keeping an eye on as well. He spoke earlier this week about his desire to win at least one major title this season, after missing out last time. Sometimes setting a target can be just the motivation you need. His focus is always good.

No prizes for guessing who the home fans will be cheering on though. Ding Junhui continues to be China's biggest star and would love to win this tournament for a second time.

He doesn't always rise to the occasion on his homeland but I don't think he's the kind of player to feel the pressure either. If he's playing well, he can win this tournament and the atmosphere would be sensational.

Elsewhere, Stephen Maguire ended last season in improved form and ironically last won a major ranking event at the 2008 China Open. He's capable of returning to winning ways.

Then there's Mark Allen. He'll be hoping to hit the headlines in China for the right reasons this time and definitely has all ability to ensure the crowds are cheering him on this time round.

It's not all about the big boys. There are some experienced campaigners making up the qualifying side of the draw but the major news is ranking event debutant Michael White.

He's another in a long line of talented Welshmen to grace the sport and looks at first glance to have plenty of potential to sit proudly alongside them.

You can watch all the action on Eurosport. Enjoy the tournament.

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