Maguire Edges Ballrun In Brilliant Welsh Final

Trailing Stuart Bingham 7-5, having lost five of the previous six frames, it looked as though Stephen Maguire might have to wait a while longer to win an elusive fifth career ranking event title.

There was however to be another twist, as the Scot fought back to win what would prove to be an absorbing final 9-8 to take home the title, in the process earning the top prize of £50,000, together with 5,000 ranking points…

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Stephen Maguire 9-8 Stuart Bingham

100-1 (71), 77-22 (62), 26-63 (56), 114-12 (114), 0-86 (79), 110-0 (110), 0-133 (55, 78), 25-73, 11-89 (73), 108-16 (71), 0-119 (118), 8-71, 51-50, 67-40, 77-0 (77), 59-72 (58), 92-8 (82)

In a match that would prove to be full of both high quality and high drama, the bulk of the former was to come during the afternoon session, as Stephen Maguire hit breaks of 114, 110, 71 and 62 on his way to a 4-2 lead.

Having led throughout the early stages of the match, Stephen could have been forgiven for being disappointed then, to have not carried a lead into the evening session, but in truth Stuart had not played badly himself and responded well to largely shut his opponent out and take the next two frames to level at 4-4.

As the evening session got underway, observers wondered who would settle the most quickly and we soon had our answer, as Bingham took advantage of a ‘hit and hope’ shot from the Scot to move into the lead for the first time in the match at 5-4.

Despite a missed black off the spot, Maguire was able to take the tenth frame to break Bingham’s three-frame winning streak, but the man who Dominic Dale in commentary amusingly described as a ‘happy Buddha’, continued to look by far the more composed of the two players and added the next two frames before the interval to lead by two at 7-5.

While we had seen a terrific standard of play up to this point, the turning point in the match was to come during a highly dramatic 13th frame, which saw several chances come and go for both players. With Stuart looking to all but wrap up the match and move one away from the title at 8-5, his best chance came when having ended a long, tense battle over the blue by fluking it into the left-middle pocket, while attempting to lay a snooker, he found himself with a shot at the pink into the same pocket to take the frame.

With cue ball and object ball so close to each other however, the shot was not as straight-forward as it might have appeared and crucially he missed, leaving Maguire in to pot pink and black to get himself back into the match at 6-7.

Having looked anxious all evening up until this point, Stephen suddenly had fresh impetus in the match, while it was Stuart who suddenly began to look the more troubled of the two and the combination of a missed blue from him and a brave double from the Scot, ensured that the scoreline would soon be level at 7-7,

With the momentum behind him, Maguire hit a break of 77 to regain the lead in the match at 8-7 and leading 59-6 in the next following an early re-rack, looked as though he might kill off the match there and then.

Winning a match as dramatic as this was never going to be that easy however, and following another ‘hit and hope’ shot from Maguire when snookered, Stuart produced a gutsy clearance to take the match into a deciding frame.

The early moments of the 17th and final frame were as cagey as you would expect, though both players having overcome moments earlier in the match where they had buckled under the pressure of the situation, now looked as calm and composed as they had at any stage during the previous couple of hours.

Following an in-off from Stuart however, it would be Maguire who would strike the deciding blow, a break of 82, marked on match ball by Stephen punching the table three times in delight when the match was beyond doubt. As he explained in his post-match interview, it will hurt in the morning, but he will not care too much about that.

Indeed for Maguire it is a tremendous victory and no doubt he will be extremely relieved as having lost his last three ranking event finals, all in close finishes, he could have been forgiven for thinking that the same might have happened tonight.

Although he was able to win a couple of PTC titles in 2012, Stephen’s focus has always been on the bigger tournaments and after a lean spell following his last full-ranking event victory at the 2008 tournament, there have been few more consistent than him during the past couple of seasons.

One of my favourite players in the game to watch and one who following his victory at the 2004 UK Championship looked to have the snooker world at his feet, a victory such as this has been long overdue and it will be interesting to see now whether the win spurs him on to greater things, with the Crucible looming large on the horizon.

Turning to Stuart, he appeared to be extremely disappointed after the match and understandably so, having come so close to taking an 8-5 lead at one stage of the match. But he can look back on what has been another excellent week for him overall and be proud of his achievements in Newport. His clearance against Neil Robertson was one of the best that you could ever wish to see and his comeback against Ding Junhui was equally as impressive.

Up to number seven in the world, Stuart has now proven beyond any doubt that he deserves to be there. No longer is he a ’16-22′ player as I heard someone describe him this week, but he is a legitimate contender for any tournament that he enters.

At this stage I usually summarise the event as a whole and today is no different. Coming on the back of the German Masters, which always sees huge, incredibly enthusiastic crowds, the Welsh Open can struggle to follow on from that event, but this year I thought came across well, with decent crowds and some excellent matches.

Not only did we have a classic final, but it was good for those of us watching on BBC Wales to see new presenter James Mohammad in action ahead of his début at the World Championship in April and it was also exciting to see India’s Pankaj Advani make a mark at the venue, as well as veterans Ken Doherty and Alan McManus rolling back the years to reach the quarter-finals. Congratulations also to referee Zhu Ying, who did an excellent job, officiating her first ranking event final.

While the best of seven format is far from ideal, all in all I found this to be one of the most enjoyable events as a viewer for some time and heading into the last year of it’s current three-year deal at the Newport Centre next year, hope that there will continue to be a space for the Welsh Open on the calendar going forward.

As far as this season is concerned however, we now have a rare week off, before the Haikou World Open gets underway a week on Monday…