Welsh Open 2009: Draw and Qualifying Preview

Next month sees Mark Selby mount the defence of his Welsh Open crown, his first and so far only ranking event title. Click below to see how the draw is shaping up…

Important info

First things first, please click here to view the draw in full over at the Global Snooker Centre.

The qualifiers will take place between February 3rd-6th while the final stages take place in Newport from February 16th-22nd.

Qualifying Preview

For those who failed to qualify for the China Open this will be the penultimate event of the season and the most crucial yet as the fight for tour survival really intensifies. That being the case I shall spend the early part of this preview looking at those players currently hovering around the cut-off mark for those all important tour places.

One of the most interesting ties of the first round to me is that at the very top of the draw between Northern Ireland’s Patrick Wallace and Chinese youngster Liu Chuang who are both right in the thick of it as far as the fight for survival goes. Until recently both appeared to be down and out but tremendous runs to the final qualifying round in the China Open for Wallace and the UK Championship for Chuang have given them a lifeline.

While a similar run in the World Championship qualifiers would most likely get them out of trouble, both would benefit greatly from winning this clash at Pontin’s while the loser would have it all to do next month at the EISS. Awaiting the winner is a clash with the struggling Paul Davies so there is a real opportunity for either player to get a run of wins going…

Other interesting matches at the top of the draw see PIOS champion Kuldesh Johal take on young Irishman Vinnie Muldoon while Matt Couch meets the highly-rated Stepen Craigie. On paper I would suggest that it is Johal and Couch who enter the matches as favourites, both having enjoyed solid seasons that leave them well in contention to retain their places on the tour. This is because even though the two are outside of the all-important top 64, they are both high up on the one-year list for players outside of that group with the top eight keeping their tour places.

Craigie and Muldoon however both started off promisingly, but have both suffered the consequences of round one exits at the UK Championship by falling down the rankings a touch. While neither can be ruled out of keeping a spot on the tour for a second year, it is not going to be easy and these matches look to be absolutely crucial.

How about Jimmy White I hear you ask? Thanks to his strong performances at the start of the season there is no chance of him losing his spot on the tour, but he has been given a hard task in round one for this tournament in the form of Leeds’ David Grace. While David looks doomed to relegation, he is a more than capable player and showed in the UK qualifiers by going 8-6 up against the Whirlwind that he is not afraid of the former world number two.

Whoever wins the match will the have to fight their way past Rod Lawler, Rory McLeod and Ken Doherty if they are to qualify for the tournament proper in Newport, not an easy task but you would not rule out White in particular who has already hammered Doherty once this season.

Note that further up the draw the three last 48 matches guaranteed to have a Welsh presence in them have been held over until the venue at Newport. This means that Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens and Dominic Dale will all avoid the dreaded cubicles at Prestatyn, something that I am sure will please them all! Looking at their possible opponents, with all due respect to the players in Mark’s section of the draw I would expect him to progress in the last 32, though Stevens and in particular Dale (with the dangerous Liang Wenbo lurking), appear to have a bit more work to do.

Last but certainly not least however is probably the most mouthwatering potential clash of the qualifiers, a possible meeting between the impressive Judd Trump and the Shotgun Jamie Cope in the last 48. Given how Judd has performed this season, winning his opening qualifying match in each of the six ranking events so far this season and going as far as the semi-final in Glasfow, so it is hard to see him coming unstuck in his opening match. Cope however will present him with quite a challenge and I would not like to call which way that will go!

The Seeds

So how does the draw look for those fortunate enough not to have to go through the rigours of qualifying? For Joe Perry I’m not sure whether he will want to laugh or cry! Having avoided being scheduled to meet Ronnie O’Sullivan in the last 16 of a ranking event for only the third time this season it looks like he has finally had a bit of luck, but then you see that in his opening match he might well have to fend off double world-champion Mark Williams to earn a clash with defending Welsh Open champion Mark Selby! Not exactly the kindest draw in the world.

Perhaps surprisingly though I think that the top half of the draw is probably the place to be this week as like in China, four of the season’s five ranking event winners will contest the bottom half of the draw. While UK Champion Shaun Murphy is the only man at the top to have lifted a trophy however, it is hard to describe a section with him, Perry, Selby, Williams, Ryan Day and Ali Carter in it as weak!

It is I feel an important week for the struggling Stephen Hendry as he looks to move himself up from a lowly 11th place on the provisional list. While he has been far from his best this season, it must be said that in Stephen Lee (twice), Ricky Walden (twice) and David Gilbert he has hardly been given the easiest opening round matches to deal with.

Here in Wales though it looks like he will face either John Parrott or Nigel Bond, neither an easy opponent by any means but they would both be matches that I feel that Stephen should expect to be winning if he is to stay in the top 16 for many more years, let alone win titles. If he can do enough and earn a clash with potentially Mark Allen in the next round then just maybe he could look to put a confidence-boosting run together.

Also in that quarter however awaits Ding Junhui, a man who could well end up facing local favourite Matthew Stevens in his opening round match, with Stephen Maguire awaiting the winner! Along with the top section of the draw (and another that I will soon come onto), I think that in the early rounds this could be where some of the most exciting matches of the early rounds take place.

And that other section is the bottom quarter, one that remarkably contains four of this season’s ranking event winners! Indeed it is not impossible that in the last 16 we could see John Higgins take on Neil Robertson in one match, while Ricky Walden plays Ronnie O’Sullivan in a repeat of the Shanghai final. Trying to stop this happen however will be the likes of Stephen Lee, Marco Fu and Steve Davis, hardly nobodies! I can’t wait to see how this one unfolds…