Ding Junhui can cue up another victory in Shanghai
Mark Selby is not always at his best early in the season
Eurosport 2, 7.30am Monday
The Shanghai Masters has been redesigned as an invitational event and is set to become the richest tournament in snooker history with a 24-strong field doing battle for a total prize fund of £725,00.
The elite line-up consists of the top 16 on the two-year ranking list, the next four players of Chinese origin and four Chinese amateurs, and the prodigious purse should ensure the Shanghai showpiece is a stunning spectacle.
The added prize pool is likely to motivate Ronnie O’Sullivan in his title defence but 3-1 is skinny enough on his return to action and any rustiness against competition of this calibre will be exposed.
John Higgins, last season's runner-up Judd Trump, and the red-hot Kyren Wilson, who has claimed back-to-back titles in the Paul Hunter Classic and the Six Red World Championships, are among those in his half of the draw.
That means bypassing a tricky looking section and attacking the bottom half of the draw could be the best approach.
Ding Junhui has already claimed six titles in his homeland, which includes winning this event in 2013 and 2016, and a run to the final of the Six Red World Championships in Bangkok last week suggests his game is in excellent shape.
Ding receives a first-round bye with Mark Allen or compatriot Xiao Guodong lying in wait. Allen trails the Star of the East 10-4 in their head-to-head, while Chinese challengers tend to crumble in the presence of their classy compatriot.
Mark Selby is a potential quarter-finalist but he is not always at his best early in the season and Ding has the scoring prowess to dismiss him on his reappearance.
Ding has definitely landed in the weaker half of the draw, where world champion Mark Williams is the biggest threat. However, the Welshman is likely to face teenage sensation Yang Bingtao in the second round, while a predicted last-eight clash with Barry Hawkins is no easy task.
Home supports tends to give Ding a boost and with his form proven, odds of 12-1 may underrate his chances.
1pt each-way 12-1 general
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