Sunday, 24 February 2013

The World at our feet

The World Open is about to get started and it really feels like the beginning of the all-important final stretch of the season.

We're at the business end of a frantic campaign as we travel to Hainan Island. It's just two months and three more tournaments until it's time for the really big one, the World Championship.

Before the Crucible though, there are a few titles up for grabs, form to be acquired and big matches to be played in preparation.

It's a sign of the times to say this will be the fourth of five events being staged in China this season. Events in the Far East are becoming commonplace but a lot more unusually, this is also the first ranking event in 20 years to be broadcast on ITV.

You can catch all the action on ITV4 with popular commentator Clive Everton leading the way.

This development is potentially huge. It means snooker is available to the masses. If all goes well, it could be the start of an excellent relationship and it's timing could hardly be better. Those of you who opened the Sunday Mirror today will have seen a stunning exclusive where suspended player Joe Jogia lifted the lid on match fixing he's witnessed on the circuit. It seems to be just another in a string breaking stories that seem to be dragging the sport through the mud.

So here's to hoping ITV can help get the game attract attention for the right reasons this week.

What can we expect on the baize this week then?

Well, in a season where no-one has achieved dominance, drama has been plentiful. In fact, the last 11 ranking events have had 11 different winners and, as always, this event is wide open.

Mark Allen is bound to be a big talking point. He is defending his maiden ranking title but more famously stole the headlines a year ago for his rant about China on Twitter. He'll be hoping for a quieter week but will still want to get his hands on another trophy.

Fighting him all the way could be a number of regular faces. Stephen Maguire recently won the Welsh Open and will be eager for more. Mark Selby and Neil Robertson will want to step up their pursuit of world number one Judd Trump. Judd himself will be looking to justify his position at the top after a troublesome few months. Shaun Murphy has been near but far in recent months. He could go one better. And, Ding is playing well again and due a title on home turf.

John Higgins and Mark Williams are playing far from their best but know how to win and Stuart Bingham is becoming the man never to write off.

It's going to be another great week of action - but don't be surprised if Ronnie O'Sullivan's arranged press conference finds a way of overshadowing proceedings for a few days at least.

Enjoy the tournament!

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