Saturday, 27 October 2012

Getting bigger in China

It's time to get our teeth into a brand new major ranking event.

The first International Championship begins tomorrow in Chengdu and it's somewhat of a landmark tournament in China.

This will be the biggest ranking event ever to be held in Asia with a lucrative £125,000 top prize up for grabs out of the total £600,000 money pot.

The event also sees a break away from the traditional format of matches for Chinese tournaments.

The last 32, last 16 and quarter-final matches will be played in a best-of-11-frame format instead of just nine.

The semi-finals will be contested as best-of-17-frame matches over two sessions, before the best-of-19-frame final.

China has long been heralded the future of the sport, but this tournament feels as though it is the start of an even newer chapter for the game going global.

Could this be the moment we look back at as when the sport's truly biggest tournaments aren't only played in the UK?

This event offers the money to in time compete with the biggest titles in the world and could yet evolve to become the World Championship-style event of Asia.

This big tournament and fantastic deal for the game is every credit to Barry Hearn, who continues to find prize money for the players.

It's definitely exciting times and the action on the table is assured to be just as good.

Ronnie O'Sullivan's withdrawal this week is definitely a blow and disappointing news for locals in Chengdu, who would have him at the top of their list of players to watch.

But nothing surprises me with The Rocket. The show must, and will, go on just as it has all season.

While I'm an absolutely huge Ronnie fan, I'm not put off by his exclusion. The event offers so much more entertainment than that of just one man.

Ding Junhui is an obvious fans' favourite here in front of his home Chinese crowd. He often struggles with the pressures of playing in front his biggest fans. He hasn't won an event in China since his breakthrough triumph at the 2005 China Open.

The size of this tournament would make it the perfect time to get back to winning silverware.

Mark Allen is the man of the moment. He won the most recent European PTC in Antwerp last week and looks to be playing good, entertaining snooker. He nearly didn't make the trip though after picking up the wrong passport as he left his home in Antrim. He arrived at the airport gates in Amsterdam to find he'd brought his old passport with no Visa inside. A dramatic u-turn adds to his story and he's being widely tipped to go all the way.

World number one Mark Selby is in excellent form as well. He's looking like landing a big one but must play Ali Carter in the tie of round one before thinking any further.

John Higgins is back in business. He won the last major event in Shanghai with a fantastic comeback against Judd Trump, who is likely to have a sting in his tail and loves the big occasion.

Neil Robertson is another who has struggled to produce his best in China but has to come good as some point, you'd think.

These names are without mentioning the likes of Mark Williams, Shaun Murphy and Stephen Maguire. The contenders are endless.

Sit back enjoy the show.

Full draw:

Ronnie O'Sullivan v Michael White or Lu Haotian
Graeme Dott v Dominic Dale
Matthew Stevens v Ken Doherty or Zhao Xintong
Neil Robertson v Ryan Day
Shaun Murphy v Andrew Higginson
Ding Junhui v Zhou Yuelong (Pankaj Advani withdrawn)
Martin Gould v Marco Fu
Mark Williams v Mark Davis
Judd Trump v Fergal O'Brien or Chen Feilong
Stuart Bingham v Aditya Mehta or Zhu Yinghui
Mark Allen v Robert Milkins
John Higgins v Cao Yupeng or Wang Yuchen
Stephen Maguire v Jamie Burnett or Niu Zhuang
Peter Ebdon v bye (Stephen Lee suspended)
Ricky Walden v Barry Pinches or Lu Ning
Mark Selby v Ali Carter

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