Here is the draw for the first round of the 2011 Bank of Beijing China Open. Unfortunately due to visa issues (explained further here) Jimmy White had to withdraw from the tournament so his opponent in the wildcard round; Tian Pengfei gets a bye to face Mark Selby.
Mark Williams v Stephen Lee
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ryan Day
Stephen Hendry v Matthew Stevens
Ding Junhui v Kurt Maflin/Cao Yupeng
Allister Carter v Stuart Bingham
Mark Allen v Marcus Campbell/Mei Xiwen
Jamie Cope v Robert Milkins/Rouzi Maimaiti
Mark Selby v Tian Pengfei
John Higgins v Nigel Bond/Jin Long
Ricky Walden v Martin Gould
Graeme Dott v Ken Doherty/Li Hang
Shaun Murphy v Joe Perry/Li Yang
Stephen Maguire v Mark Davis
Marco Fu v Judd Trump
Peter Ebdon v Gerard Greene/Yu Delu
Neil Robertson v Barry Hawkins
Even without Jimmy White this years China Open looks set to be one of the most exciting so far, due to mostly that the players have had so many more events this season and will be extra match-sharp. Unfortunately though they have insisted once again that they must have wildcards for the lower ranked qualifiers to play against and as every year one or more pro's will slip up against them and fail to reach to the last 32 proper. I hope that they get rid of this system soon as the players earn the right to play the top 16 when they come through the qualifiers and having to play Asian players who are used to the local conditions and time-zone is unfair to them.
Without the Whirlwind there isn't else much to look forward to in the Wildcard round this year. The tie between first round qualifier Kurt Maflin and Cao Yupeng will be interesting. Kurt came through a lot of tight matches to make it here but will he be able to keep it up in strange surroundings and get to play Ding Junhui in the last 32? Ken Doherty v Li Hang could be fun to watch also. Ken having failed to qualify for the Crucible this year will be looking to make marks in his last tournament of the season.
Image courtesy of BBC Snooker
Now the tournament begins properly, the last 32 matches! I am not a Ronnie fan but O'Sullivan v Ryan Day is one of the standout ties for me. After starting slowly, Ryan has made a better show and even managed to beat Ronnie in the first round of the Welsh Open. Ronnie will be looking for revenge for this of course and now that he has been confirmed he will be playing it will be interesting to see how he is playing ahead of his World Championship first round tie against Dominic Dale. I have no idea which Ronnie is going to turn up but I think it will be a better one than the UK/Masters Ronnie due to the Crucible being so close so I tip Ronnie to win 5-2.
Another tantalising tie has to be the one between defending champion Mark Williams and MIUS Cup (EPTC4) champion Stephen Lee. Both players are having their best seasons for over five years and will be practicing like crazy ahead of the World Championship. Mark Williams played some fantastic Snooker in last years tournament and blew Ding Junhui off the table in the final to take the title. Stephen could cause an upset here due to the short format but I expect Mark to win quite easily if he can settle. Mark to win 5-3.
The last stand-out tie has to be the one between Stephen Hendry and Championship League winner Matthew Stevens. Stephen was looking a little better in the Welsh Open, making a 147 before losing to finalist Stephen Maguire, but apart from that he hasn't made any impressions this season and has slid down the rankings and out the top 16 due to his bad PTC record. Matthew on the other hand is provisionally up to world no.11th and is looking more like his old self. As expected even though Matthew is the qualifier he has been made favourite by the bookies and is favourite in my eyes. I hope Stephen proves me wrong but I expect Matthew to win 5-2.
Now for the rest of the tournament and the outright winner. Looking at the draw it is easy to see that the first quarter is the "quarter of death" with Williams, Lee, Ding, O'Sullivan, Stevens and Day all featuring. I expect Williams to make it through that but Ding has been playing some fantastic stuff recently and in best of 9 matches there are no guarentees. And then theres always O'Sullivan...
Neil Robertson has had a pretty bad record in China (minus his first professional 147 break last year) in his career and has never made a semi-final here or at the Shanghai Masters. He has a decent draw and if he makes it past Barry Hawkins then you would have to favour him to beat Peter Ebdon in the next round and possible Marcu Fu or Stephen Maguire in the quarters. He is bound to have a good run in China at some point, why not before defending his title at the Crucible?
John Higgins is also in a good spot in the draw also and has a good starter against Nigel Bond and then a clash with Ricky Walden or Martin Gould in the next round. If he builds momentum early he will see away his opponents with relative ease and won't have many problems till the semis or even a possible final against Ding or Williams, that would be an exciting one!
My tips for the title and the £60,000 first prize this year would have to be:
1st John Higgins
2nd Neil Robertson
3rd Mark Williams
And good chances for Ding Junhui, Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire to also take the title.
Most of the matches will be covered by EuroSport and EuroSport 2 over the course of the week. Here is the playing schedule:
Monday March 28
2.30pm (7.30 AM GMT)
3. Stephen Hendry v Matthew Stevens
Kurt Maflin v Cao Yupeng
Marcus Campbell v Mei Xiwen
Joe Perry v Li Yan
7.30pm (12.30 PM GMT)
16. Neil Robertson v Barry Hawkins
Jimmy White v Tian Pengfei
Nigel Bond v Jin Long
Ken Doherty v Li Hang
Tuesday March 29
1. Mark Williams v Stephen Lee
13. Stephen Maguire v Mark Davis
Rob Milkins v Rouzi Maimaiti
Gerard Greene v Yu Delu
4. Ding Junhui v Maflin / Cao
12. Shaun Murphy v Perry / Li Yan
11. Graeme Dott v Doherty / Li
6. Mark Allen v Campbell / Mei
Wednesday March 30
9. John Higgins v Bond / Jin
14. Marco Fu v Judd Trump
5. Ali Carter v Stuart Bingham
15. Peter Ebdon v Greene / Yu
2. Ronnie O'Sullivan v Ryan Day
8. Mark Selby v White / Tian
7. Jamie Cope v Milkins / Rouzi
10. Ricky Walden v Martin Gould
Thursday March 31
17. Winner match 1 v Winner match 2
24. Winner match 15 v Winner match 16
23. Winner match 13 v Winner match 14
22. Winner match 11 v Winner match 12
18. Winner match 3 v Winner match 4
21. Winner match 9 v Winner match 10
20. Winner match 7 v Winner match 8
19. Winner match 5 v Winner match 6
Friday April 1
QF3. Winner match 21 v Winner match 22
QF4. Winner match 23 v Winner match 24
QF1. Winner match 17 v Winner match 18
QF2. Winner match 19 v Winner match 20
Saturday April 2
SF2. Winner QF3 v Winner QF4
SF1. Winner QF1 v Winner QF2
Sunday April 3
Don't forget that the win a waistcoat competition is still open and remains open until the first day of play of the World Championships on April 16th!