The Big 2017/18 Season Preview

Mark Selby’s third world title might still feel fresh in the memory, but he and the rest of the World Snooker Tour will be back in action this week as the 2017/18 season gets underway with qualifiers at Preston’s Guild Hall on Wednesday.

As ever, there are a few interesting themes that we can keep an eye on over the coming months, as well as some changes of note that I summarise below.

Events

The full calendar for next season is available to view at worldsnooker.com

China Championship

First introduced last season as a 16 player invitational event in Guangzhou, the China Championship returns in 2017 as full ranking event, with a 128 strong field. Initially scheduled to take place later in the season, the event was recently brought forward to a mid-August date and unusually, will run from Wednesday to Tuesday just ahead of the Paul Hunter Classic.

Also worth noting is the change to the wild card round which I blogged about last week, with the four wild card players now included within the main draw itself, rather than having to start in a separate wild card round against players who have already won matches to qualify for the event. You can read more about those changes here.

World Cup

The biennial World Cup returns in 2017 at the start of July as we will learn who will succeed 2015 champions Zhou Yuelong and Yan Bingtao as champions. Information about the field and venue (we know that it will be in China) is still to be confirmed, but we do know that there are potentially places at the Champion of Champions up for grabs, as well as the prize money and the glory of becoming World Cup winners.

Previously occupying this slot in the calendar was the Indian Open won by Anthony McGill last year, which now moves to a September slot, with qualifiers scheduled for early August.

World Games

Another event not held every year returning in 2017 will be the IWGA World Games in Wroclaw, Poland, with 2013 gold medallist Aditya Mehta among those set to return for the tenth staging of the Games.

More details of the field will be announced very shortly, but for now you can read more about snooker’s history in the Games here.

The event effectively slots into the space vacated by the World Open, won last year by Ali Carter in Yushan.

Calendar takes shape

From late autumn right through to the end of the season however, the calendar takes a familiar shape with only relatively minor changes from October to next May. Perhaps the most notable remaining switch is that the Coral Shoot Out has been brought forward to the start of February, ahead of both the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix and Welsh Open events.

Key cut-offs

Since the introduction of the rolling rankings in 2010, the amount of event seeding cut-offs has steadily increased over the past seven years and the new season is set to be no different with ten important cut-off dates to keep an eye on.

Obvious key dates remain the seeding cut-offs for the Dafabet Masters and Betfred World Championship, which as ever remain following the Betway UK Championship and China Open tournaments respectively.

As was the case last year, the one-year ranking list will also play a significant role during the coming 12 months, primarily with event qualification for the Ladbrokes World Grand Prix and Ladbrokes Players Championship to be determined.

The important cut-off dates to keep an eye on are the Coral Shoot Out (World Grand Prix qualification) and Gibraltar Open (Players Championship qualification).

Invitational Tour Cards

With 128 players competing on the main tour this year, it is perhaps worth remembering that the three players awarded invitational tour cards, specifically Jimmy White, Ken Doherty and James Wattana (second year), are effectively top up players and will only be able to enter events where there are sufficient spaces following professional (and potentially wild card) entries.

If spaces are limited, White would receive the first place on account of having earned a greater amount of total career prize money than Doherty and finally Wattana.

No entry fees

As announced during the recent World Championship, for the first time World Snooker and the WPBSA have abolished tournament entry fees for professional players from the start of the 2017/18 season. The moves means that once a player has earned a tour card, that membership carries with it the right to compete in events, effectively saving all main tour players approximately £5,000 per year.

As this is a reward for earning a main tour card therefore, it is to be noted that entry fees are still applicable to amateur top-up players.

New Players

As ever, a new season means fresh blood on the main tour, with a mix of returning ex-pros and tour rookies looking to make rapid progress up the ranking list as the likes of Anthony Hamilton and Yan Bingtao have over the past year.

A full breakdown of where all of the new players will come from can be found in my previous blog, but notable stories include:

  • Paul Davison recently became the first player to come through Q School to qualify for the main tour on three separate occasions
  • With Li Yuan, Niu Zhuang, Xu Si, Lyu Haotian, Yuan Sijun Chen Zifan and Zhang Yong joining the players already guaranteed tour places following the end of last season, there are set to be a record 22 Chinese players on tour
  • Lukas Kleckers will become the first player from Germany to compete on the World Snooker Tour since Patrick Einsle in 2013/14
  • As mentioned above, having fallen off the tour both Jimmy White and Ken Doherty have been award two-year invitational tour cards from the start of the 2017/18 season
  • The final nomination for Africa has yet to be confirmed, however recent Africa Champion, Egypt’s Basem Eltahhan, recently tweeted ‘destination main tour’ following his success
  • There will be no fewer than 12 rookies joining the World Snooker Tour next season

Ranking themes to follow

A year ago I looked to predict some of the themes to follow during the season and while some did not quite come to pass, with Kyren Wilson and Alan McManus having more difficult seasons than might have been expected, it was notable that Stuart Bingham has slipped back following the removal of his World Championship prize money from 2015, while Ali Carter has indeed climbed up the list following a successful season.

But what stands out this time around?

Not a single ball might have been potted yet, but already it appears to be a near-certainty that Mark Selby will retain the world number one ranking for the duration of the 2017/18 campaign, having earned an incredible £859,550 during last season alone. While it is not impossible, somebody would almost certainly have to win next season’s World Championship and several other tournaments, combined with Selby suffering a dramatic loss of form which appears to be less than likely at present.

In terms of the other big names, it will be interesting to keep an eye on Neil Robertson, who following an indifferent term last time around has dropped to seventh in the rankings and only 13th on the one-year list, will be targeting an improved campaign to erase any doubt as to his Masters and World Championship qualification.

Photo of Mark Allen playing snooker

For Mark Allen however the danger is more real, as on paper he looks to be this season’s top player who comes into the season needing a significantly improved campaign if he is to retain his place inside the top 16. This is because of the £307,650 to his name on the current world ranking list, only £89,450 was earned last season, with £218,200 to drop off over the next 12 months.

With the majority of this to be removed after Christmas, he should be safe for the Masters but will likely need to earn at least £100,000 prior to next season’s trip to Sheffield if he is to be sure of extending his unbroken spell at the Crucible dating back to 2007.

What about those moving in the right direction on the ranking list? Following his spectacular ‘return’ to the tour last season having dropped out of the top 64 in May 2016, Anthony Hamilton finds himself ranked back up in 25th position and 14th on the one-year list, in with a real shout of breaking back into the world’s top 16 for the first time since 2006/7, at what would be the age of 46.

Another to have made significant progress having started on zero is 17-year-old Yan Bingtao, who from an impressive 56th position after his rookie season will be targeting at least a climb into the world’s top 32 if he can repeat last season’s prize money haul.

What of those who could be facing a tour survival battle if they cannot improve upon their most recent campaigns? Perhaps the most surprising name is Scotland’s Alan McManus, who having reached the semi-finals of the World Championship just a year ago, then endured a difficult season during which he earned just £30,900. With 64th placed Noppon Saengkham having clung onto to his tour place with £60,050 over two seasons, McManus requires a better season this time around if he is to be sure of remaining on the circuit for at least another year.

Similarly, both Jack Lisowski and Tian Pengfei both find themselves needing similar improvement, as they earned just £28,762 and £26,075 respectively last season.

These are just a few of the main themes and facts about the new season that stand out, but what will you be keeping an eye on over the coming months? Let me know @prosnookerblog on Twitter.

Tickets for the qualifiers are available now, for details CLICK HERE for the Riga qualifiers (May 31 to June 2) and HERE for the China qualifiers (June 3-6).