It has been a day to remember for this weekend’s four semi-finalists at the 2015 Welsh Open, as both Ben Woollaston and Luca Brecel have made it through to their first ever ranking event semi-finals, to face two of the game’s all-time greats in home favourite Mark Williams and four-times world champion John Higgins.
Click below for a round up of the day’s action and what their results so far mean for the four remaining players…
Not since 2004 has Wales had one of its own players in the semi-finals of the Welsh Open, but Mark Williams has today ended the 11-year drought with a vintage display against world number 11 Marco Fu, winning 5-1.
Having begun with an opening frame break of 103, he added runs of 76, 108 and 80 prior to the mid-session interval to lead 4-0. Marco briefly threatened an unlikely comeback with a ton of his own, before Williams wrapped up the win with a clearance of 46.
For Mark it represents his second semi-final of the season and a significant step towards him securing a top 16 place ahead of the World Championship cut-off, therefore guaranteeing him a place at the Crucible having missed out last year. The two-time World Champion is not safe yet, but with a lead of nearly £20,000 to nearest chaser Robert Milkins, he has given himself a great chance.
More immediately however, he will now be looking to reach his first ranking event final since the 2012 Shanghai Masters and potentially win his first title since the 2011 German Masters. He is famously the only Welsh player ever to have won this title following his victories in 1996 and 1999, while he was also the last home player to make the final in Cardiff since back in 2003.
His next opponent will be Leicester’s Ben Woollaston, who this evening added the scalp of Gary Wilson to those of Ali Carter, Mark Allen, Mark Davis and Thanawat Tirapongpaiboon to reach his first ever ranking event semi-final.
Coming on the back of his recent run to the semi-finals of the Championship League, it is a significant milestone in the career of the 27-year-old and he will be hoping to go even further tomorrow. The £20,000 that he has earned to date will see him climb to an equal career high ranking of number 27 and also sees him vault up into 26th place in the race to qualify for the new World Grand Prix tournament with just one event to go after this weekend.
Also moving to a career-high ranking is Belgian starlet Luca Brecel, who came back from 3-0 down this evening to defeat three-time ranking event winner Ricky Walden to reach the last four of a ranking event for the first time in his career.
With a high break of just 35 at the mid-session interval, victory looked to be an unlikely prospect for Luca, but as Walden lost his way as the match progressed, the Belgian Bullet found his rhythm with breaks of 72 and 90, as well as some impressive safety play to turn the match on its head and run out a 5-3 winner.
Having seen his career stall to some degree following his last eight run at the 2012 UK Championship, Luca is now back with long-time coach Chris Henry and is reaping the rewards based on the evidence we have seen so far this week.
In the running for his first silverware as a professional, Brecel will also move to a career high ranking of at least 54th after the tournament, while like Woollaston he has also moved into position to qualify for the new World Grand Prix as we head to Gdynia next weekend.
Standing in the way of him and a place in the final is three times Welsh Open champion John Higgins, who thrashed an out of sorts Stephen Maguire 5-1 today today to make it to his first semi-final since the 2013 Wuxi Classic.
While his scoring was not as heavy as you might imagine, with just one break above 37 during the match, his run as a whole nevertheless represents a welcome return to some sort of form for the Scot, who has shown signs since the turn of the year of having turned a corner with his game.
Whether he is able to recapture his very best form of a few seasons ago remains to be seen, but it has always been dangerous to write off John Higgins and I for one am not ready to do that just yet.
Like Williams, John has given his hopes of securing an automatic place at the Crucible in April a significant boost with his run here this week and will now be targeting a record fourth crown in Wales.
The first semi-final tomorrow between Higgins and Brecel will get underway at 1pm, with Williams and Woollaston to do battle at 7pm local time.