Favourites Look Ahead to Second Round in Wales

The first round of the Welsh Open has been completed and there is a pause for breath today ahead of the rest of the tournament from Monday.

That gives time for the television crews to assemble their equipment and the players to prepare themselves mentally for a tough week ahead.

The first round threw up very few major shocks in total as only one top 16 player failed to make it past the last 128.

That was Robert Milkins, who suffered his second successive opening round defeat in a ranking event, going down 4-2 to Scott Donaldson, while China’s lowly ranked Li Hang hammered former world champion Peter Ebdon 4-0.

Everybody else who is expected to challenge for the title this day week emerged unscathed, although some in more comfortable circumstances than others.

The favourites, of course, are Ronnie O’Sullivan, Ding Junhui and Neil Robertson.

Masters champion O’Sullivan looked a little rusty in his 4-1 victory over Mitchell Travis but will be content now that he is on his way.

The ‘Rocket’ has Barry Pinches for company in the second round and faces potentially difficult immediate challenges ahead from the likes of Ricky Walden, Xiao Guodong and Michael White.

2012 champion Ding looked superb in his victory over Gary Wilson, a player who has performed really on his return to the circuit this season, and next faces Jamie Cope.

Once upon a time two-time ranking event runner-up Cope would have been a stern test for Ding but his inconsistency lets him down badly and despite it being the short best of seven format it would be a major upset should he topple the world no. 3.

Indeed, Ding’s route to the quarter-final looks relatively kind in the grand scheme of things and should he make it that far his opponent could turn out to be defending champion Stephen Maguire.

Australia’s Robertson, meanwhile, beat teenager Lu Haotian 4-1 in his first encounter to set up a clash with the ‘Dentist’ Rory McLeod.

As widely publicised, Robertson is on course to record an incredible milestone of compiling 100 centuries for a single season.

The UK champion is currently on 86 and for quite a few weeks it has appeared pretty obvious that it was becoming a question of when, rather than if.

However, the 32 year-old was upset after failing to capitalise on opportunities he garnered for himself against Lu and add to his ton tally.

Robertson should be careful not to let his ambitions of achieving the rare feat distract him from what is more important – winning matches and tournaments.

Apart from O’Sullivan, Ding, Robertson and Maguire, the challenges could come elsewhere from the likes of Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen.

Murphy is one of the form men at the moment following victories in the Gdynia Open and in one of the recent Championship League group stages.

Nothing breeds confidence quicker than collecting some silverware and the former world champion excelled in his 4-0 drubbing of David Morris, particularly in the last frame where he knocked in a beautiful 142 total clearance.

Northern Ireland’s Allen’s progression could not have been any more different as he was within only a few balls of being on the wrong end of a 4-0 scoreline.

Instead, though, the World Open champion came from 3-0 down to overcome Sydney Wilson in a decider, where he also finished with a century.

Allen may have won two European Tour events this season but, in fact, his record in the ranking events have been poor.

The 27 year-old could actually do with a decent run this week because he isn’t even guaranteed to finish inside the top 16 of the world rankings ahead of the final cut-off point before the World Championship – it would be a big shock if Allen had to qualify for Sheffield.

The home contingent did quite well overall with seven of the ten Welsh players competing advancing to the second round.

It was hard work for most of them, though, as Mark Williams, Matthew Stevens, Dominic Dale and Michael White all needed deciding frame victories in tight affairs.

Meanwhile, from an Irish point of view Dublin duo Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien enjoyed routine passages through.

Doherty had three high-scoring visits in his whitewash win over James Cahill while countryman O’Brien continued his good form of late with a 4-1 success over Sanderson Lam.

In a repeat of the 1998 World Championship final, Doherty takes on Scot John Higgins for a place in the last 32 while O’Brien has an equally difficult test in China’s Liang Wenbo.

Plenty of action to look forward to in Newport then over the next week as the event gathers pace ahead of the business end of proceedings.

The full draw can be viewed here.

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