With the World Championship fast approaching there is plenty to play for at the China Open, as Richard Mann explains.
Recommended bets: China Open
- Event runs from April 1-7 and is live on Eurosport
The China Open has a history of proving a key pointer to the World Championship. Indeed, Mark Selby went on to claim Crucible glory in 2017 having lifted the China Open trophy aloft only weeks earlier.
Selby is always a man to watch at this time of year, his game always seemingly tailored around a return to Sheffield, and it was no surprise to see him make it back-to-back wins at the China Open 12 months ago.
However, that success wasn't enough to spark a repeat success at Sheffield as he crashed out to Joe Perry in the first round while this season has been a forgettable one for Selby, a win at the China Championship the only moment of cheer in an otherwise disappointing campaign.
There is no doubt that Selby will be desperate to make his mark again next week and his outstanding record in China means he is always to be respected on those shores, for all his form this season leaves him with plenty to prove.
Watching Selby, there is no doubt his game is still there somewhere, his impressive demolition of Stephen Maguire at The Masters and century-filled first session display against Neil Robertson at the recent Tour Championship evidence of that.
What is more concerning is that Selby's B-game, so often his bread and butter, has seemingly deserted him and the manner in which he surrendered a 6-2 lead to Robertson in that aforementioned Tour Championship clash was symptomatic of his season.
He could easily bounce back in China but I can't back him with confidence right now while Judd Trump, the 7-2 market leader, might also be worth treating with caution given the bruising last-gasp defeat he suffered against Ronnie O'Sullivan in Wales and the fact he will surely have one eye on Sheffield and his bid for a first world title.
If Selby and Trump are two to watch in China, similar comments might also be applicable to Neil Robertson who pushed O'Sullivan all the way in the Tour Championship final but looked shattered, both physically and mentally, at its conclusion.
Given Robertson has only just celebrated the birth of his second child, it would be understandable if he wasn't quite at his best in China and as such, he is another who I can pass over on this occasion.
John Higgins is a fascinating contender at double-figure odds despite enduring a stuttering campaign so far.
Higgins has endured a miserable time of it since losing in the final of the World Championship last year but the more recent signs have been encouraging: a quarter-final finish at the Welsh Open followed by a run to the last four of the Indian Open and he certainly heads to China fresher than most.
A deep run from the Scot would not surprise but it's his conqueror from last year's Crucible final, Mark Williams, who gets my vote to very small stakes.
Williams has clearly enjoyed himself since ending a stellar campaign last year by winning his third world title and his results this term have suffered, for all he did win the World Open in August.
Nevertheless, he has made no secret of the fact this season was all about returning to Sheffield in good form and his more recent efforts have been encouraging.
Williams pushed Robertson hard when making the quarter-finals of the Players Championship and the left-hander played really well in the Tour Championship last week, dominating large periods of his match with Judd Trump until the latter produced a stunning late comeback.
Williams shouldn't be perturbed, though. His game is clearly heading in the right direction and his draw looks kind enough, pitching him in the same quarter as a struggling Ding Junhui and David Gilbert.
Those two cannot be underestimated, particularly given the excellent year Gilbert has enjoyed, but neither boasts Williams' pedigree and 12/1 looks fair for a player who seems likely to enjoy a deep run.
Others to note are Ryan Day and Stuart Bingham, the former currently sitting at 17 in the world rankings and needing results over the next few days, and the latter heading to China as a recent ranking title winner and someone whose game has been in fine nick for some time now.