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Welsh Open Feb 16-22, 2015

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  • Welsh Open Feb 16-22, 2015

    I am looking forward to another exciting
    tournament here and Day 1 has some of
    my fave players in action.

    I was checking out World Snooker and it
    appears that there will only be 1 TV table
    which is disappointing.
    Last edited by robertmac; 15th February 2015, 11:39 PM.

  • #2
    Snooker week starts tomorrow, as we slowly get into the final part of the season...

    As you probably know, the Welsh Open is not my favourite tournament, for the obvious reason. The best-of-7 format is just so inferior to the best-of-9, even if it seems like there isn't much difference. But outside of a couple of PTC finals where a title was at stake, can you remember a single classic match played over this length? I just don't know why the people in charge think this was a good idea, especially as most of the snooker fans are clearly against it. When they dumbed down this tournament, the excuse was that they were going down to two tables so everything could be televised. And here we are, a couple of years later, at a venue with 11 tables, rushing through a tournament in one week right from the last128 round, and only a small percentage of the snooker will actually be televised. I know I repeat this every year now, but I hope there never comes a time when I am so used to this travesty that I skip this paragraph.

    Moving on, it will be a busy week. We had the qualifiers for the Indian Open and the China Open this weekend, so the players who are in bad form at the moment could pretty much ruin the rest of their season in just a week.

    It will also be interesting to see how the move to Cardiff affects this tournament. Obviously some players like some venues better than others, and some players struggled in Newport over the years. There are 128 players in the draw, so it's a little unrealistic to go through the whole thing, but let's just see where the more interesting players have landed...

    Quarter 1:

    Ronnie O'Sullivan v. Vinnie Calabrese
    Rory McLeod v. Andrew Pagett
    Ken Doherty v. Zhou Yuelong
    Matthew Stevens v. Oliver Lines

    Michael Holt v. Ashley Carty
    Alfie Burden v. Andrew Norman
    Dechawat Poomjaeng v. Allan Taylor
    Marco Fu v. Ian Glover

    Ronnie O'Sullivan has landed in what I think is by far the toughest quarter, with three players who have won four major titles and reached seven finals between them this season. That said, he is in the easier part of this quarter, so he shouldn't have too much trouble in the early rounds. He won two titles back to back just before the new year, but he hasn't really been in great form since. The Masters ended with heavy defeat for him, while the German Masters saw him lose on the final black in the decider, from 4-2 up. I think it was the first time he lost a best-of-9 from 4-2 up in the time I've been watching snooker, and he did have his chances. This is usually the part of the season where his form is strong, especially in this tournament, having won it three times in the past 11 years. There are two 1st round matches that could be interesting here... Matthew Stevens has a tough opener against the promising Oliver Lines, a player who has already reached a PTC final in his debut season as a professional. Stevens meanwhile has struggled for most of the season, only reaching the one quarter-final in Australia, where he appeared as one of the seeds. He has never played well in the Welsh Open, never got past the quarter-finals in fact, even though this tournament has been on the calendar for all of his career. Ken Doherty on the other hand has had a lot of success here over the years. This was the first ranking event he ever won, back in 1993, and he added another title in 2001. He also has an interesting 1st round opponent, the talented 17-year-old Zhou Yuelong, who reached the last32 of the International Championship earlier this season, only losing 6-5 to the eventual champion Walden. The Indian Open qualifiers were mostly dominated by the higher-ranked players a few days ago, but Zhou was one of the few lower seeds to get through, beating Jimmy White for the second time this season, and he followed it up with an impressive 5-1 win over Michael Holt in the China Open qualifiers as well. Doherty against Stevens was such a common pairing in the past, the final of the Masters in 2000 of course, but if they met here it would be their first major meeting in almost nine years, which I find quite incredible. It's hard to see either of them giving O'Sullivan a good game at this point in time, and I would put Rory McLeod in the same category. They all reached the last32 of the UK Championship before the new year, but they all failed to reach the venue stage of the German Masters, so they are not coming here on the back of any great results. O'Sullivan and Doherty have hardly played in recent years, their last major meeting was in the last32 of the Northern Ireland Trophy in 2008. You may remember that match, Doherty led 4-2 and was looking good for the win, but O'Sullivan came back with tree big breaks in around 25 minutes to win 5-4. It was just after Doherty had dropped out of the top16, and he hardly won a match in the qualifiers all season after that setback. O'Sullivan and Stevens have met more frequently, O'Sullivan winning their World semi-final 17-10 in 2012, but neither Stevens nor Doherty have beaten O'Sullivan for 12 years! As for O'Sullivan and McLeod, just the one match between them, and you may remember that one as well, 9-6 to O'Sullivan in the 2008 UK Championship. O'Sullivan led 6-0 and looked very comfortable, but McLeod came back into the match with three successive centuries, probably for the first and only time in his career.

    Marco Fu should be O'Sullivan's toughest opponent in this section, but he needs to win three matches to meet him in the last16, and there are never really any guarantees with Fu. He got through the best-of-7s pretty well last year though, beating Dott and Williams before losing 5-0 to Hawkins in the quarter-finals. He has been fairly consistent this season, reaching the quarter-finals of three major ranking events, including the UK and the International Championship, as well as the two major invitational tournaments. But of course he is looking for even better, considering how strong he was the season before. His early opposition here could include Dechawat Poomjaeng, whose best result this season is a last32 run in the UK Championship, where he lost 6-3 to Fu. Then there is Alfie Burden, who took advantage of an easy draw and reached the last16 of the German Masters a couple of weeks ago, but then went on to lose in the qualifiers for the Indian Open as the higher seed. Michael Holt lost both of his qualifying matches, 4-3 to Allan Taylor in the Indian Open, and the already mentioned defeat to Zhou in the China Open, both of which are big surprises. He is still waiting to reach the business end of a major tournament this season. He played Fu in the World Open last year and lost 5-3, but I wouldn't consider it a major surprise if he beat him here. I will also mention Ashley Carty, whom we saw at the venue in Berlin. Well, I say "saw", but that's a rather unfortunate term to use when discussing the German Masters. He was there though, and he will be in Beijing as well. Apart from Fu, it's hard to see any player here giving O'Sullivan a good match in the last16, I think they will all be hoping he goes out before that. Fu could be a danger though. Prior to this season his record against O'Sullivan was 6-6 in the major tournaments, but this season O'Sullivan has had very convincing wins in the Masters and the Champion of Champions. This would be a shorter match though, so anything could happen...

    Shaun Murphy v. Steven Hallworth
    Jamie Jones v. Chris Norbury
    Jimmy White v. Barry Pinches
    Mark Williams v. Lyu Haotian

    Dominic Dale v. Michael Wasley
    Jack Lisowski v. Li Hang
    Mark Joyce v. Joel Walker
    Judd Trump v. James Wattana

    Moving on to the toughest section of the draw, where we could see a last16 match between Shaun Murphy and Judd Trump, a little too early for my liking. Murphy is the in-form player at the moment, enjoying his best season in at least six years, even though the German Masters was his first really strong performance as far as major ranking events are concerned. He should have won it perhaps, he looked to be the stronger player midway through the final, but then again he was practically out against Allen in the last16 and against O'Sullivan in the quarter-finals. He is one of the best players in the history of the PTC series, so I don't think the best-of-7 format will bother him here. He could face Jamie Jones in the 2nd round, the player who surprisingly beat him 10-8 at the Crucible in 2012, before going on to reach the quarter-finals. Jones looked good in that championship, but unfortunately it looks like he will end up being a one-hit wonder, having done nothing of note in the game since. His best result this season came in Australia, where he whitewashed Stephen Maguire in the 1st round, before being whitewashed himself in the last16. Mark Williams was not a top16 seed here, which meant one of the top players would draw him as early as the last32 round, and it's Murphy who had that misfortune. I hope Williams' match against Lyu Haotian is televised, because that's one I would really like to see. They have already met once in a major tournament, in the 2013 China Open, where it was clear that Lyu didn't quite have the experience to compete against the top players yet, and Williams prevailed 5-2. Lyu has turned professional now, but unfortunately he hasn't qualified for any venue prior to this week, apart from the UK Championship, which didn't have any qualifying. He will be going to India though, having beaten Dominic Dale in the qualifiers a few days ago. Realistically Williams should win here though. He has played alright for most of the season, but he's come across Mark Allen in three major events so far and failed to beat him, including in the semi-finals of the International Championship. In the UK Championship he drew Maguire, another player he traditionally struggles against, so you could say he's been a little unlucky. He has won this tournament twice in the past, but in the last decade or so he hasn't really challenged for the title. And it's been a decade since he last played Jimmy White in a major event as well, but it could happen here, and I'm sure that one would be televised if it does. White doesn't have the best record against Barry Pinches though, and he hasn't really shown any form recently, losing both of his recent qualifying matches. His TV match against Ding in the UK Championship was better than usual from him though. Murphy against Williams is a much more common pairing, although they have mostly played in stuff like the Championship League in recent years, while their last proper match was the semi-final of the 2010 UK Championship, which Williams won 9-8. Murphy will be favourite this time though.

    Trump won't have to face a player of Williams' calibre, but he is still surrounded by potential dangermen, and quite a few of them have had success against him in the past. James Wattana dropped off the tour at the end of last season, but only a year ago he still managed to reach the last32 of this tournament, and the year before he gave Trump a great match in the German Masters and only lost 5-4. If Trump wins he could then face Mark Joyce, the player who has beaten him twice in the UK Championship in the past, including the year when Trump was defending champion, coming back from 5-2 behind to win 6-5 in the 1st round. He was a quarter-finalist in the World Open last season, but this season he hasn't got that far in any major event yet. Trump won when they played in the German Masters qualifiers, but it was only 5-4, so there is clearly something about Joyce's game that he struggles with. He could also face Joel Walker, a surprising quarter-finalist in this event last year. Unfortunately Walker hasn't shown the same form recently, a run to the last32 in the UK Championship being his best this season. Last year he beat Maguire and Mark Davis in the early rounds, then led Ding 4-2 in the quarter-finals, but didn't really get too many chances to finish the job, as Ding came back with two centuries in the last two frames. It's a different venue this year, but perhaps Walker can find some inspiration in Wales again. Jack Lisowski and Li Hang meet in one of the toughest 1st round matches to call here. Li has shown some decent form this season, particularly in the International Championship, while Lisowski has mostly struggled. It's almost two years now since Lisowski had that run to the quarter-finals of the China Open, beating Trump 5-3 in the 1st round, with what was probably his best-ever performance. The hype that has surrounded him since doesn't have much basis in reality, but I have to admit I still expected him to make more progress than he has done. Dominic Dale is also having a fairly mediocre season, and he hasn't done too well in his home tournament over the years. He beat Michael Wasley 13-4 at the Crucible last year, and beat him in the qualifiers for the Shanghai Masters as well, 5-4. He went on to beat Trump 5-2 at the venue in Shanghai, but apart from that match Trump has a strong record against him. So, while there are quite a few players who could beat Trump here, you still have to fancy his chances. He has played well for most of the season, and it almost feels like one major title is a little disappointing for the kind of form he's shown. Last year he lost to his nemesis Higgins here, 4-3, and he generally seems to play better in the best-of-11 tournaments, so I'm sure he would prefer the matches to be a little longer. If he does get through to meet Murphy here, it will still only be a best-of-7 match, so impossible to predict really. He does have the better record though, including two recent major wins against him, in the 2013 World Championship and the 2014 German Masters.

    Quarter 2:

    Mark Allen v. Alexander Ursenbacher
    Cao Yupeng v. Craig Steadman
    Ben Woollaston v. Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon
    Mark Davis v. Lyu Chenwei

    Xiao Guodong v. Joe Swail
    Matthew Selt v. Ian Burns
    Mark King v. Eden Sharav
    Allister Carter v. Fraser Patrick

    The second quarter is a little weaker, certainly in terms of potential title contenders. Mark Allen is probably the best player this season not to have won a major title, but it looks like his form is declining a little now. He lost 5-4 to Murphy in Berlin, after Murphy had got the snooker he needed in the penultimate frame, and Allen can look back on some of the shots he played in that tactical exchange and some of the pots he missed to close out the match. He lost 5-1 to Michael Leslie in the qualifiers for the China Open yesterday, which can't possibly be a good sign. Mark Davis should be his toughest opponent in the early rounds here, and that's probably one of the worst draws he could have got. I will remind you of that statistic again though, Davis has reached eight major quarter-finals before new year in recent times, and only one after new year, so this is the part of the season he traditionally struggles in. He also has a fairly poor record against Allen, so he doesn't seem like the best bet here either. Cao Yupeng would normally be a danger for anyone in the early rounds, but he has had a dreadful season so far, somewhat surprisingly. He won both of his qualifying matches in the last few days and reversed the trend a little, after previously losing all of his matches since the Wuxi Classic. He has beaten Allen before, 10-6 at the Crucible in 2012, and I'm sure most people remember Allen's comments after that match, when he suggested the Chinese players had a culture of cheating. Allen then got revenge in the International Championship later that year, when he won 6-2 in the last16. Unfortunately Cao doesn't seem like much of a threat at the moment, and is indeed under threat himself against Craig Steadman in his opening match, having lost to him 6-4 in the qualifiers for the International Championship earlier this season. Ben Woollaston is also a little unimpressive this season, but he did reach the last32 of the UK Championship, and he got to the same stage in this event a year ago.

    Perhaps Allen could find a stronger challenger in his last16 match, if indeed he gets that far, but the draw is favourable there as well. On paper the strongest player in this little section is Ali Carter, but understandably he is struggling to find form again after all the health problems he's had. The Welsh Open was the first tournament he ever won, in 2009, and he came close to defending his title next year, which was unusual for any player in that period. He played Allen early in this tournament last year, and beat him 4-2. I think we will slowly see Carter playing better and better now, and since this is traditionally one of his strongest events, I wouldn't be surprised to see him at the business end. Xiao Guodong could be a decent bet as well. He could play Carter in the last32 here, which would surely be one of the strongest pairings of that round, and a repeat of their match in the World championship last year, a high-quality affair which Carter won 10-8. Xiao is appearing at major venues very regularly now, and usually winning a match or two as well. His best this season is a semi-final in the Australian Open, and he's got himself quite close to a top16 spot in the rankings, so he could do with a couple of strong performances in the remainder of the season. He will miss out on Bejing after losing to Elliot Slessor though, and that must be very disappointing for him. We also have two former finalists in this section, Mark King, who reached the first of his two major finals in this tournament in 1997, and Joe Swail, who lost to Carter in the 2009 final, but finally ended his incredible run of 9 semi-final defeats in 9 attempts. I don't fancy either of these two to make it through, but I would give King a slightly better chance, after his decent performance in the German Masters, where he reached the last16. That was his first good result all season though, but he has been a bit of a "giant-killer" in the past, so you never know. Matthew Selt could do something as well, he beat Xiao 6-4 in the UK Championship this season, so he would fancy his chances if they met in the 2nd round here. He has reached ranking quarter-finals in Australia in the past, but in a way his constant presence at major venues this season is perhaps more impressive, as was his run to a PTC final in Lisbon. Take your pick... Personally, I will go with Carter.

    Joe Perry v. Lee Page
    Yu Delu v. John Sutton
    Gary Wilson v. Zhang Anda
    David Gilbert v. John Astley

    Anthony McGill v. David Grace
    Jamie Cope v. Elliot Slessor
    David Morris v. Joe O'Connor
    Neil Robertson v. James Cahill

    Now we come to what is probably the easiest section of the draw, where it looks like Joe Perry has a very favourable route to the last16, to possibly meet Neil Robertson. Perry had a very consistent last season, with a number of appearances in the quarter-finals of major tournaments, and this was one of his best events. He beat a number of good players, including Selby in the quarter-finals, before narrowly losing to Ding, 6-4 in the semi-finals. He went one better this season and reached the final of the Wuxi Classic, but other than that his results have not been as good. He won the most recent PTC in China though, so it looks like his form is coming back now. He won't have to face any really tricky opponents early on here, but there are still a couple he shouldn't underestimate. Yu Delu for example, whom he has never played before. Yu hasn't done anything notable so far this season, but you could say he has been a little unlucky on occasion, having to play the likes of Murphy and Maguire at venues, or Mark Williams in the qualifiers. If he can get past Perry here, the draw opens up a little, so perhaps this is his chance. The 1st round match between Gary Wilson and Zhang Anda is one of the toughest to call, but the winner should have an outside chance of getting through a couple of rounds here. Wilson played alright at a couple of venues last season, but has so far disappointed this season, while Zhang hasn't done much either. It's quite a few years now since Zhang impressed with his performance against Hendry at the Crucible, but he is 23 now, and not looking like making any breakthrough at the moment. He did beat Carter in the UK Championship though, so I wouldn't rule him out. David Gilbert is 33, and you can say something similar about him. He has been on the scene for quite a long time now, and has shown he can hold his own against most players on his day, but he has never got to the business end of any big tournament, not even the ones that suit lower-ranked players, such as the Australian and the Indian Open. He reached the last32 of the UK Championship and the German Masters in recent months, so he is probably Perry's toughest opponent here. Obviously any complacency would be ill-advised for Perry, but I suspect he will still have one eye on that possible last16 match against Robertson, who of course beat him in that Wuxi final, 10-9. Robertson has also won most of their other major matches, but they would meet in a best-of-7 here, and I think that would suit Perry more.

    Robertson is of course a former winner of this event, but has struggled since it was dumbed down, failing to reach the business end in any of the last five editions. He started the season with a ranking title, but eight months later that still remains his only success, and I think he would be disappointed if that was the case at the end of the season as well. In the last four major ranking events he lost deciding frames, in matches he could and perhaps should have won. Obviously we couldn't see what happened against Maguire in Germany, when he was past snookers required and fouled the black to give seven points away, so it's hard to say whether that was bud luck or just a moment of stupidity, but Robertson seems to think it was the former. It will be interesting to see how losing all these close matches will affect him. He is usually such a confident character, but things like that can get to anyone. He opens his week with a match against James Cahill, who had a surprising run to the last16 of the UK Championship this season, beating Ding 6-5 along the way. I said at the time that I had a good feeling about him, after the way he held his nerve towards the end of that match, and he also played some decent tactical stuff, but unfortunately he has lost in the qualifying of every other tournament. Anthony McGill impressed in York as well, with a run to the quarter-finals, and he played very well from 4-1 down to force a decider against Selby in Berlin. He has established himself as a dangerous draw now, and I think he is the first in line to take advantage if Robertson is out of sorts. I also wouldn't rule out David Morris here, yet another impressive performer from York, where he reached the last16 for the second year in a row, this time playing superbly to take out Selby in the 2nd round. Already a ranking quarter-finalist in Wuxi last season, and coming into what should be the best years of his career now. There is little history between most players in this section, but Jamie Cope is the exception, having played Robertson five times in the major events before, including the final of the Grand Prix way back in 2006. He was 21 at the time, and it was impossible to predict that his career would be so underwhelming. He used to be a draw the top players were hoping to avoid, but I don't think anyone fears him much at this point. He pushed Murphy all the way at the Crucible last year, only losing 10-9 in the 1st round, so I thought he was perhaps coming back to some sort of form, but this season he has been dreadful again. He lost all five of those matches against Robertson, and failed to beat him in any of the short matches they've played as well, so I think he is a longshot here.

    Quarter 3:

    Ding Junhui v. Lee Walker
    Peter Lines v. Michael Georgiou
    Andrew Higginson v. Chris Wakelin
    Graeme Dott v. Zak Surety

    Liang Wenbo v. Cao Xinlong
    Gerard Greene v. Daniel Wells
    Jamie Burnett v. Alex Borg
    John Higgins v. Michael Leslie

    The third quarter is filled with interesting names, but that's a little misleading, because most of them are struggling at the moment. Ding Junhui is still in the top4 of the rankings, and will remain there quite comfortably for the near future, but he is now losing touch with the other top contenders, and is even being overtaken by the likes of Murphy and Trump when it comes to tournament favourites. He has won some sort of major title every season since 2009/2010, but time is running out for him this year. Perhaps that's why he is the only really top player apart from Trump to enter the Indian Open. The Welsh Open has been a strong tournament for him in recent years, particularly since the length of matches was reduced. His worst performance in this period has been a quarter-final, his best of course the title in 2012. Things could have turned around for him in Germany, but he ended up losing to Ryan Day in the 1st round, after an unlucky foul followed by an unlucky kick at the crucial point in the penultimate frame. He didn't really get a chance in the decider, as Day won it in one visit. Could things get better for Ding this week? Peter Lines could play him in the 2nd round, and it's interesting, the only match they've ever played was in this tournament in 2004, when Lines beat a 16-year-old Ding 5-4. He first needs to get past Michael Georgiou though, and that won't be easy, as Georgiou has shown good form recently to qualify for the German Masters, beating Graeme Dott in the process. Which brings us nicely to our next contender here... Dott hasn't had much success against Ding over the years, most recently losing to him 5-2 in the quarter-finals of the Shanghai Masters this season, as well as 9-7 in a great semi-final in the International Championship last season. Apart from Shanghai, Dott's best performance this season came in the UK Championship, where he played a couple of great matches before losing 6-5 to Bingham in the quarter-finals. He should have won that match perhaps, but he had some extraordinary bad luck in the decider. He is just outside of the top16 now, so he has missed both major invitationals this season, and he also missed out on Germany, so he hasn't played much snooker recently. I don't think this format is his favourite either, so I'm not sure how much of a threat he will be. Andrew Higginson has been out of form for some time now and lost in the Indian Open qualifiers, so I wouldn't fancy him to beat Ding either, but who could forget that incredible run to the final of this tournament in 2007 and the absolute classic against Robertson. Will it ever happen again for him?

    Liang Wenbo is one of the hot players at this moment in time. The recent semi-final in Germany was his first in more than five years, and he played really well to get there, beating the likes of Bingham and Day on his way. He won his qualifying matches in both the Indian Open and the China Open comfortably, and he made a big break in all nine of his winning frames, the lowest being 58, so his scoring is really strong at the moment. He played a good tournament here last year and got to the last16, and I think he has a decent chance of doing so again here, although his opponents will certainly be aware that they need to raise their game against him now. Gerard Greene is quite a favourable opponent to face in the 2nd round at the moment. He reached the final of the PTC Grand Finals last season, but we have hardly seen him since and he hasn't really had a notable run in any tournament. Jamie Burnett on the other hand played a great tournament in Chengdu and reached a rare quarter-final, and I still remember the tremendous clearance he made against Trump to stay in the match, before winning the decider. He would need to get past John Higgins first though... Higgins is another player who has entered the Indian Open, which surprised me a little, because he often likes to skip the lesser tournaments, but of course he is dangerously close to dropping out of the top16, and that's the last thing he wants ahead of the World Championship. He still hasn't reached a major quarter-final this season, and if he fails to do so at some point, it will be the first time in his entire career. He has shown a bit of form here and there, so I kind of expect him to play a strong tournament in the near future. I thought it would maybe be the German Masters, but he went out to his bogey player Ebdon in the 1st round and extended his drought against him in the major tournaments, a drought which has now lasted for more than ten years. This time his draw is more favourable in that respect. He has never lost to Burnett, although most of their matches are quite dated now, the exception being Higgins' 6-4 win in the UK Championship last season. He has never lost to Greene, and he has never lost to Liang either. His matches with Liang are a lot more recent of course, over various distances, but the biggest one did go all the way, 10-9 in the 1st round of the 2012 World Championship. He played alright here last year, lost in the quarter-finals to O'Sullivan, and he generally seems to like this tournament, having won it three times in the past, so I would perhaps favour him over Liang here. He needs to be careful against Michael Leslie though, a 5-1 winner over Allen in the China Open qualifiers, as I mentioned earlier.

    Of course if we want to predict the quarter-finalist in this part of the draw, we have to go one round further, where the combinations are endless. But it does seem the most likely that Ding will go on to play either Liang or Higgins in the last16, and that could be a good match. Ding beat Liang 10-8 at the Crucible in 2009, but since then Liang has won all four of their match, although all of them over a short distance. Ding and Higgins have played more often, including some really high-quality matches, but neither player has much of an advantage, so I think it would come down to daily form if they met here. It's a tough job to pick among this lot of inconsistent and unpredictable players, but I will play it safe and go with Ding.

    Stephen Maguire v. Duane Jones
    Kurt Maflin v. Liam Highfield
    Robbie Williams v. Dave Harold
    Fergal O'Brien v. Sam Baird

    Alan McManus v. Jamie Rhys Clarke
    Anthony Hamilton v. Ahmed Saif
    Aditya Mehta v. Sydney Wilson
    Barry Hawkins v. Scott Donaldson

    Stephen Maguire has found himself in a fairly easy section, and is arguably the favourite to reach the quarter-finals, despite being outside of the top8 at the moment. He has certainly reversed his slide down the rankings recently though, with two major ranking semi-finals in a row, in the UK Championship and the German Masters. He wasn't quite playing well enough to win those tournaments, but it's nice to see him competing in any case, and I'm sure it will happen for him if he continues to put the work in. This is traditionally one of his strongest tournaments, and his most recent major title as well, in 2013. The highest seed he could face before the last16 is Fergal O'Brien, which is quite favourable. It would of course be a repeat of the 2007 Northern Ireland Trophy final, which Maguire won, as he won the other four times they've played as well. It took O'Brien seven years to reach another quarter-final, but he finally managed it in Shanghai this season. He also reached the venue stage of the German Masters, but was whitewashed by Robertson there, so I'm not sure he is playing well enough to come through here. He plays Sam Baird in the 1st round, a player we have seen at a couple of venues as well this season, his best result being a last16 appearance in the International Championship. As you may remember, Baird had that sitter to take Selby out of the Welsh Open in 2012, but missed it and went on to lose the match. Unpleasant memories, I'm sure. We also have an interesting 1st round match between Kurt Maflin and Liam Highfield here, where I'm not sure the higher-ranked player will prevail, although Maflin did win 6-4 when they played in the UK championship last season. Maflin has been disappointing this season, not that I expected him to reach the business end of tournaments, but I at least expected him to reach an occasional last32 or even the last16 round. Highfield on the other hand made it to the last32 in Australia and Germany, so he is moving in the right direction. He also made a series of high breaks in his 5-1 win over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh yesterday, so it will be interesting to see how he does here. He is in his mid 20s now, and probably not as strong a player as many expected him to be at this point, but there is still time. As for Robbie Williams, he has done nothing since his appearance at the Crucible last year, so I would rule him out here.

    The obvious challenge to Maguire should come from Barry Hawkins, the highest-ranked player in this part of the draw. His rise to the top8 in the world was perhaps a little surprising, but he did play like a top8 player for most of last season. He reached the semi-finals of the Wuxi Classic at the start of this season, but since then he has struggled badly, although in his defence he drew Mark Williams twice in the early rounds of major tournaments and Ebdon as well. Last year he got to the semi-finals here and lost to a superb O'Sullivan, but this year it would be a surprise if he got that far. His record against Maguire is quite poor, he has lost all six of their best-of-9 matches, five of them in China, but he did win the one that perhaps mattered the most, 10-9 at the Crucible in 2011. It would only be a best-of-7 if they met here though. Hawkins' first problem will be Scott Donaldson, who is having a disappointing season as well, at least compared to the season before, which included a run to the last16 of this tournament. Also in this section is Alan McManus, a quarter-finalist two years ago, when he beat Hawkins in the last32, but lost to Maguire later on. He lost to Hawkins in Wuxi this season, but he did beat Maguire in Shanghai, on the way to another quarter-final, although his record against Maguire is not that great apart from that. It doesn't look like the return to Europe has done McManus any good though, because he has now been pretty quiet for a while. Anthony Hamilton is another familiar name, possibly playing alright at the moment, judging from his two wins in the qualifiers this weekend, but generally he has been fairly mediocre recently. He should meet McManus in the 2nd round here, and he has a good record against him, going back 25 years, believe it or not. And finally, Aditya Mehta is also here, soon returning to India where he reached a "ranking final" last season, but so far that remains his only success in snooker, so I wouldn't give him much chance here.

    Quarter 4:

    Stuart Bingham v. Thor Chuan Leong
    Kyren Wilson v. Robin Hull
    Nigel Bond v. Chris Melling
    Michael White v. Ross Muir

    Martin Gould v. Jak Jones
    Rod Lawler v. Hammad Miah
    Thepchaiya Un-Nooh v. Mitchell Mann
    Ricky Walden v. Lu Ning

    The fourth quarter contains three players who have won major tournaments this season, so it's right up there with the first quarter in that respect. Stuart Bingham is one of them, the winner in Shanghai, which means he is not really under pressure to do anything else this season. He is a common presence at the business end of tournaments these days, and probably the favourite to get through here as well, although he might need to get past Ricky Walden to do that. But Bingham could face a real test earlier than that, if Michael White comes through to meet him in the last32. White has definitely matured as a player this season, reaching successive quarter-finals in Shanghai and Chengdu, but he missed out on Germany a couple of weeks ago. It will be interesting to see how he performs in his home tournament. He can be a bit of a slow starter at times, so I think the best-of-7 format probably won't bring out the best in him. Kyren Wilson against Robin Hull is a very evenly matched pairing in the 1st round, and I suppose it's a pretty harsh draw for the higher-ranked player here. Hull opened the season really well, with a quarter-final in the Wuxi Classic, but hasn't played much since, party because he had to withdraw from tournaments, and partly because he lost a few times in the qualifying. He is a very strong breakbuilder, well capable of causing problems for the likes of Bingham, let alone Wilson. As for Wilson, he has struggled in the last year or so, since reaching the quarter-finals of the 2013 Shanghai Masters, where he beat Bingham 5-1 along the way. Nigel Bond hasn't done much either, except for that run to the last32 of the UK Championship, which included a comeback from 5-0 down against Hawkins. Looking ahead a little, Bingham against Walden would be a repeat of the 2012 Wuxi Classic final, which Walden won 10-4. Bingham got some revenge in the UK Championship this season, when he won 6-0, but I wouldn't expect Walden to play that badly again. He can be quite inconsistent though, which is why I would give a slight edge to Bingham, especially since Bingham is a former finalist of this event, while Walden has never been to the quarter-finals. In any case though, it's another pairing that probably deserves a match longer than best-of-7.

    Walden was the winner in Chengdu this season, so the pressure is off him a little as well, but he won't want to continue 2015 the way he started it. He only won his first match a few days ago, in qualifying for the Indian Open, but even that was a struggle without big breaks. Last year was the first time he ever won a match at the venue in the Welsh Open, eventually losing to O'Sullivan in the last16. He starts against Lu Ning this year, the player he beat 6-4 in the 2012 International Championship, when Lu was still a wildcard. Unfortunately Lu is not enjoying a good debut season on the tour, but I think Mitchell Mann will be fairly happy with his, having reached the last32 in Chengdu at the end of October. He could certainly beat Thepchaiya Un-Nooh here, a player who has been struggling for most of the season, and was beaten heavily by Liam Highfield in the China Open qualifiers yesterday, although he did reach a PTC final in China recently. Martin Gould could be a decent bet here as well. He reached the semi-finals of the Wuxi Classic right at the start of the season, his first in a standard ranking event, then won exactly one match at the venue in each of the next five ranking events. We are starting in the last128 round this time, so I think he would be disappointed to only win one match here. He lost the last time he played Rod Lawler though, 6-5 in the UK Championship. That was Lawler's best tournament so far this season, a run to the last16, with Mark Allen among his victims. He also got to the last16 of the International Championship, and I don't think it's a coincidence both of those events are played over the best-of-11 format for the most part. The short matches here should definitely favour a fast starter like Gould, but I still wouldn't rule Lawler out. Gould certainly won't be favourite if he meets Walden though, having lost six of the seven major matches they have played in the past.

    Robert Milkins v. Luca Brecel
    Tom Ford v. Tian Pengfei
    Mike Dunn v. Oliver Brown
    Ryan Day v. Noppon Saengkham

    Peter Ebdon v. Tony Drago
    Jimmy Robertson v. Igor Figueiredo
    Marcus Campbell v. Stuart Carrington
    Mark Selby v. Alex Davies

    The next little section has eight interesting players, but only two realistic contenders to reach the last16 here. Robert Milkins is a bit like Walden, in the sense that he has played all of his best snooker this season before new year, while he failed to win a match in 2015 prior to the Indian Open qualifiers. Otherwise he has had a pretty strong season, the highlight being his run to the semi-finals of the International Championship, where he beat a number of strong players before losing heavily to Walden. I think he is the weak link among the top16 players here though, and might be second favourite in a potential last32 match with Ryan Day. They have played three major matches in the past, all in Chinese tournaments, and it's interesting that Milkins won two of those 5-0 in the qualifiers back in the UK, while Day won 5-1 the time they actually went to China. That's the problem with Day perhaps, he seems to play most of his best snooker abroad, while his home tournament hasn't brought him much success over the years. He recently reached his first quarter-final of the season in Germany, so his form isn't really in question at the moment. All the other players here are struggling this season, but let's go through them anyway... Noppon Saengkham played at several venues last season, but he hasn't been able to repeat that this time, although to be fair, the collective withdrawal of the Thai players from the first couple of tournaments certainly didn't help. He pushed Day all the way in the Wuxi qualifiers last season, so Day needs to be careful here. Mike Dunn hasn't been able to reproduce last season's performances either, which was to be expected, since his run to the semi-finals of the 2014 China Open was a big surprise. His record against Day is quite poor, so I wouldn't fancy him to get past the 2nd round here. Oliver Brown? Well, he made a bit of a name for himself when he whitewashed Ding in the Wuxi qualifiers, but that's about all he has managed this season. Luca Brecel rarely gets through the qualifiers these days, but there is still plenty of time for him to make a breakthrough, and perhaps the best-of-7 format will suit him. His match against Milkins shouldn't take long in any case, whatever the result. Tom Ford is also having his worst season in a while, and doesn't look like winning any match at the moment, let alone reaching the business end of any tournament. As for Tian Pengfei, it's sad to see him struggling in the qualifiers so badly. He once beat Day 9-3 in the final of the Beijing International Challenge, an invitational tournament that was held in 2009 and 2010, and it looked like he would become a strong player, kind of like Xiao Guodong in recent years, but instead his career took a similar turn to Jamie Cope's. Last season he played a lot better, but unfortunately he is back to his worst now. He is capable of better snooker than his ranking suggests though, so he shouldn't be underestimated.

    And we conclude with a fairly favourable section for Mark Selby, the World champion and the winner of the most recent major event. The German Masters was a good title to win in its own right, but it was especially important for Selby to get a bit of confidence ahead of his World title defence and to make people aware he is still one of the best players around. I just hope he doesn't take his foot off the gas again now, as players so often tend to do after winning a major event. We know he doesn't necessarily need to be at his best to challenge for titles, but it certainly doesn't hurt, and he couldn't get away with just playing alright in the UK Championship and the Masters this season. He won this title in 2008, in dramatic style, and he has got to at least the quarter-finals in five of the six editions since. He could face Peter Ebdon in the last32 here, a pretty tough draw, but that's probably the only player likely to give him any trouble. As I said before their German Masters clash, they played a couple of great matches in the 2006/2007 season, Ebdon winning 9-6 in the UK Championship with four centuries, and Selby returning the favour with a 13-8 win in the World Championship, where he had five centuries himself. We couldn't see their match in Germany, but a 5-1 scoreline in Selby's favour is pretty telling. Ebdon is a bit like Lawler this season, his best performances apart from Germany coming in the best-of-11 format in the UK and the International Championship, while the best-of-7 format has never really been his cup of tea. It's ten years since he last reached the quarter-finals here, so the odds are definitely against him. This will be his first major match against Tony Drago in almost 12 years, but he has a good record against him, and he also beat Jimmy Robertson the last time they played, in the China Open last season. Robertson suffered a surprising whitewash against Thanawat Thirapongpaiboon in the Indian Open qualifiers, but at least he made the China Open. Igor Figueiredo didn't enjoy those two qualifiers either, winning only one frame in two matches, but it's nice to see him playing again in any case. That just leaves Marcus Campbell, who has been very quiet this season, but has never lost to Selby, even if they did play only a couple of times. I don't think Selby will be too bothered whomever he meets here though, whether it's Day, Milkins, or any of the outsiders.

    Possible quarter-final line-up:

    Ronnie O'Sullivan v. Judd Trump
    Allister Carter v. Neil Robertson
    Ding Junhui v. Stephen Maguire
    Stuart Bingham v. Mark Selby


    Enough said I think. I'm sure the best-of-7s will produce the usual number of surprises and, despite the shortcomings of its format, it should be a good tournament and a fun week for snooker fans.

    Comment


    • #3
      Fantastic write up as always Odrl.

      Comment


      • #4
        Yes, looking forward to this.

        Comment


        • #5
          I got tickets to both semis and the final. Unlike Newport, the place I'm saying as a hotel bar and evening meals served. So won't have to nip to the pub next door for dinner and libations.

          Comment


          • #6
            One TV is a major disappointment for me.

            Williams is missing some very easy shots but
            is still 2-0 vs Haotian.

            Best of 7 may mean lots of surprises unfortunately.

            Comment


            • #7
              Hello all,

              I see this tournament is on Eurosport but will it be shown on BBC Red Button aswell? Thanks

              Comment


              • #8
                Must be a new player on the tour, Ronnie is playing V Cahill according to Eurosport?? Lol
                After 15 reds and 15 blacks i did this http://youtu.be/DupuczMS2o4

                Comment


                • #9
                  Disappointing morning. Lyu Haotian played nothing like the player we saw in the wildcard rounds of Chinese tournaments two seasons ago. He couldn't put any decent break together despite having several chances, and his safety was poor. Unfortunately there isn't much of the season left for him, he won't be going to China, but at least he's qualified for India.

                  Williams did what he needed to do, but he won't be having a good run this week if he doesn't raise his game a little.

                  Surprisingly long break until O'Sullivan-Calabrese then. Unfortunately I suspect it will be another one-sided match.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    When does the Ronnie match start? Many thanks

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by nicky1982 View Post
                      Hello all,

                      I see this tournament is on Eurosport but will it be shown on BBC Red Button aswell? Thanks
                      Apparently.

                      http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/17151954

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by nicky1982 View Post
                        Hello all,

                        I see this tournament is on Eurosport but will it be shown on BBC Red Button aswell? Thanks
                        Yes, BBC red button coverage starts at 1pm uk time.

                        -
                        The fast and the furious,
                        The slow and labourious,
                        All of us, glorious parts of the whole!

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          I'm going to the Motorpoint on Saturday and Sunday.

                          I hope the toilet situation is better there than at the Ally Pally. The queue seemed to go most of the way round the venue. Ridiculous lack of toilets.

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                          • #14
                            Cheers Patblack

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by nicky1982 View Post
                              Hello all,

                              I see this tournament is on Eurosport but will it be shown on BBC Red Button aswell? Thanks
                              According to the BBC website

                              Monday 16 February

                              Welsh Open, 13:00-16:45 & 19:00-20:00, BBC Red Button

                              Comment

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