The Haikou World Open is the fourth of five world ranking events staged in China this season.
The previous three were won by Ricky Walden, John Higgins and Judd Trump. In other words, there’s no point looking for a pattern because there isn’t one: the last 11 ranking titles have been won by 11 different players.
Why this should be is a matter for debate. Some would argue the standard at the top is so high that titles are naturally shared around.
Except, it clearly hasn’t been as high this season as in previous years. Neil Robertson even said at the Welsh Open that several tournament winners this season wouldn’t have been challenging for titles five years ago.
The truth is, players like Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry were exceptional in every sense, in particular in their drive and desire to be the best. They didn’t want to be pals with anyone or follow the herd in any way. They were single minded and devoted only to winning. How true is this of those who have followed them?
More to the point, what does it matter?
Mark Allen clearly didn’t enjoy his trip to Hainan Island last year, although he probably enjoyed the £75,000 winners’ cheque he brought back.
This fiercely talented Northern Irishman has the snooker chops to defend the title but there is, as usual, ten or so other players in with a realistic shout.
Stephen Maguire is one of them, having just ended a five year wait for a major title at the Welsh Open. If he wins again this week he will be the first player to win back-to-back ranking titles in the same season since Ronnie O’Sullivan won the European Open and Irish Masters in 2003 – ten years ago.
Ding Junhui’s success in China is pretty much limited to the China Open. He plays with the pressure of expectation, which remains because there have been no other Chinese players come through to realistically challenge for titles.
There are all sorts of factors which can affect a tournament such as this: the playing conditions, jetlag and various off table issues.
Eurosport will broadcast the World Open in 60 countries. In one of these, the UK, it will also be on ITV4.
This is the first ranking tournament ITV has shown in 20 years. The last was the 1993 British Open, although they have shown various smaller events in between. Their renewed interest in snooker is to be welcomed.
However, ITV are not broadcasting any evening highlights which would best showcase the tournament to those who are at work during the day so it remains to be seen what impact their coverage will make to those outside the snooker bubble, even though they are employing the two best commentators in the game, Clive Everton and Neal Foulds.
Ali Carter, the German Masters champion, has withdrawn, citing illness. Hopefully everyone else will make the long trip to Haikou and deliver another entertaining week for the sport.