Hot on the heels of four days of qualifying matches at the Barnsley Metrodome, tomorrow will see the return of ranking event snooker to Cardiff at the Welsh Open for the first time since 2004.
Click below for my tournament preview…
- Click here to view the draw for the venue stages of the Welsh Open
- Click here to view the order of play in Cardiff
- Click here to view the latest projected seedings
Following a decade spent at the Newport Centre, the Welsh Open returns to Cardiff this week as Ronnie O’Sullivan looks to defend the title that he won so memorably 12 months ago with his victory against Ding Junhui.
Like the UK Championship, the event will see all 128 players at the venue and given some of the complaints about the conditions in York, it will be interesting to see how the facilities and subsequent reaction at the Motorpoint Arena compares.
As well as the prospect of glory at the tournament itself, the race for ranking gains ahead of the fast-approaching World Championship continues, as well as to secure tour places as we approach the end of another season.
Again, the tournament will see matches played over the best of seven frames up to and including the last 16, before increasing to nine, 11 and ultimately 17 for the final.
As usual for this event, the action will be broadcast by BBC Wales and Eurosport.
The Top Quarter
Heading up the draw is of course the defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan and he begins with a clash against Australia’s Vinnie Calabrese, before a potential meeting with either Rory McLeod or Andrew Pagett on Monday evening.
If his draw were to unfold in accordance with seeding, Matthew Stevens would await in the last 32, ahead of Marco Fu at the last 16 stage. Looking across his section of the draw, though there are talented players around him, with youngsters Zhou Yuelong, Oliver Lines and Ashley Carty all having impressed at times this season, I would nevertheless expect O’Sullivan to come through to the quarter-final stages.
Who he would face however is somewhat more difficult to predict, with the likes of Shaun Murphy, Mark Williams and Judd Trump all lurking in the other half of this quarter. In fact, Murphy and home favourite Williams could potentially meet at the last 32 stage for the right to face Trump in the following round.
Both Murphy and Trump of course have shown strong form of late, while Williams will be looking for as many wins as possible to help him in his battle for a place at the Crucible at the end of the season, without the need to win three qualifying matches.
Aside from the obvious names, it will also be interesting to see how Chinese youngster Zhou Yuelong gets on against Ken Doherty, the 17-year-old having won both of his qualifying matches in Barnsley at the weekend and produced a number of impressive victories so far this season. Of all of the players this season to have started with from zero in the rankings, the youngest player on tour currently stands second, ahead of several older, far more experienced names.
Amateur Ashley Carty is another to keep an eye on and given a number of good wins recently, will fancy his chances against an out of form Michael Holt, while Jimmy White, the man who Carty beat yesterday in qualifying for the China Open, faces a crucial match against Barry Pinches as he looks to secure a place inside the top 64 at the end of the season.
The Second Quarter
If the top quarter of the draw is the Ronnie O’Sullivan/Judd Trump section, then the second would at first glance appear to be the Neil Robertson/Mark Allen section, with the left-handed duo on course to meet at the quarter-final stage of the event.
There are though of course 30 other players in this quarter who will be hoping that will not be the case, with a number of them having shown form of late and being more than capable of putting a run together, particularly over the best of 7 frames as these matches are.
Amongst them, Joe Perry finds himself seeded to meet his friend Neil Robertson at the last 16 stage in Cardiff and looking at his draw, will fancy his chances of doing so, with David Gilbert looking to be the most likely of anyone to stand in his way. In fact it is perhaps Robertson’s draw that is more tricky, with potentially matches against James Cahill, David Morris and Anthony McGill awaiting him in the early rounds, three of the stars of this season’s UK Championship a couple of months ago.
Over in Allen’s section of the draw meanwhile, Championship League finalist Mark Davis and Lisbon Open runner-up Matt Selt stand out as the most obvious threats to the Northern Irishman, whilst former Welsh Open champion Ali Carter will have been boosted by his victories in Barnsley at the weekend, his first at ranking events so far this season.
The Third Quarter
Turning to the bottom half of the draw, the third quarter sees Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins lead the way in terms of seeding, but given their respective results of late, including opening round defeats at the Masters and in Berlin, not in terms of form.
Indeed for me, the interest in this quarter will be to see how a number of Scots get on, with Stephen Maguire, Graeme Dott and John Higgins all competing effectively against each other for the final few automatic places at the World Championship, while 24th seeded Alan McManus is also not to be underestimated.
Of the players in the section, Maguire has undoubtedly shown the most form of late and having taken the decision not to enter the Indian Open tournament, will be looking to get some extra money in the bank in order to boost his Crucible bid further. Another to keep an eye on is China’s Liang Wenbo, who comes into the event on the back of his semi-final run at the recent German Masters and begins with an all-Chinese clash against Cao Xinlong.
Liang could meet John Higgins at the last 32 stage and I do wonder whether this will be the event where we see a return to form for John, the Scot having been threatening a decent run at a major tournament for a while now.
The Bottom Quarter
Last but not least we have the bottom quarter of the draw, in which former Welsh Open champion Mark Selby and 2013 runner-up Stuart Bingham are the two top seeds, with Ricky Walden and Robert Milkins the other obvious names to keep an eye on.
Following their respective victories at the German Masters and Championship League within the last week, both Selby and Bingham will be full of confidence and in Selby’s case in particular, will be fancying his chances of securing another ranking event at the Welsh capital.
In terms of obvious challengers, a third round match with Peter Ebdon would not be straight-forward for Selby, although he did of course defeat Peter on his way to the title in Berlin last week, while for Bingham he could face Ricky Walden, or perhaps SightRight stablemate Martin Gould at the last 16 stage before a meeting with Selby.
Of the four sections, this is perhaps the one that I see as most likely to go in accordance with seeding, but over the best of seven frames, nothing can be taken for granted.
SF: Robertson def O’Sullivan, Selby def Dott
F: Selby def Robertson