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Ssb - the green, green baize of home

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  • Ssb - the green, green baize of home

    The BetVictor Welsh Open has something most tournaments do not: a history.

    It was first staged in 1992, growing out of the old Welsh Professional Championship. The first winner was Stephen Hendry. In 1995, it provided the last ranking success for Steve Davis.

    Paul Hunter won it at 19. John Higgins, like Hendry, has won it three times. Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Ken Doherty have each won it twice.

    There have been some terrific finals down the years: Higgins beating Stephen Lee 9-8 in 2000; O’Sullivan coming from 8-5 down to edge Davis in 2004 and then beating Hendry in a decider the following year. Mark Selby won from three down with four to play to beat O’Sullivan in 2008.

    One of the most memorable Welsh Opens was in 2007, when Andrew Higginson came from the first qualifying round to within a frame of winning the title. Amid all the endless talk of ‘fairness’ that surrounds next season’s new format, Higginson proved what could be done if you keep your head down, work hard, try your best and, above all, win.

    It got better and better for him that week: wins over Marco Fu, John Higgins, a 147 against Ali Carter, a semi-final win over Stephen Maguire and then a final against Neil Robertson. Higginson recovered from 6-2 down to lead 8-6 before Robertson beat him 9-8.

    Carter was the highest profile casualty at the qualifiers, the German Masters champion going from playing in front of 2,500 enthusiastic snooker fans in Berlin to nobody at all in Sheffield.

    Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Maguire, Stuart Bingham and Barry Hawkins were among those who made it through.

    So too did an amateur, Gareth Allen, who made the most of his ‘lucky loser’ card awarded because not all professionals entered.

    His reward? A meeting with Higgins tomorrow afternoon. This is the stuff of which snooker dreams are made.

    From an unknown to one of the most recognisable faces ever to pick up a cue. Davis is back after a good 4-2 win over Kurt Maflin, complete with century break, and faces Selby.

    The Welsh contingent – Williams, Matthew Stevens, Ryan Day and Dominic Dale (whose German residency also saw him seeded through to Berlin) – will be trying to give home fans something to cheer, but there’s been little of this for Welsh snooker players in Newport in recent years. It’s 14 years in fact since Williams last won the title.

    The first prize has been increased to £50,000, a step in the right direction because – look away ‘fairness’ fans – winners should be rewarded properly for their achievements.

    It’ll be a busy tournament with match after match until the dust settles at the weekend for the closing stages, which are more than likely going to be contested by the usual faces.

    Or will there be a surprise winner? We’re about due one for a ranking event.

    Personally I’ll be interested to see if Judd Trump can return to form after three disappointing events for him at York, the Ally Pally and Berlin.

    The last ten ranking titles have each been won by a different player. In snooker today, an increasing number have every right to fancy their chances with so many playing opportunities affording the chance to become match sharp.

    But the Welsh Open, like any big tournament, remains difficult to win. As a glance at the roll of honour will tell you, it’s the best who usually come through.

    The Welsh Open is live all week on BBC Wales, Eurosport and Eurosport 2.