The 2015 BetVictor Welsh Open gets under way on Monday as the long-established ranking event moves back to Cardiff for the first time since 2004.
That year, Ronnie O’Sullivan came from 8-5 down in the final to beat Steve Davis in a deciding frame thriller before going on to collect his second World Championship at the Crucible the following May.
The ‘Rocket’ returns in 2015 as the defending champion again after a 9-3 victory over Ding Junhui this time 12 months ago that was completed with a spectacular 147 maximum break.
Newport hosted the Welsh Open between 2005 and 2014 and was by no means a terrible venue, but players and the wider community of Wales must be pleased that the third oldest ranking event on the calendar has moved back to the capital city.
Last year’s tournament was a drawn out marathon affair that took a dozen days but the move to the Motorpoint Arena and its bigger space has ensured that this year’s edition is back to a more standard length of a simple week.
Indeed, there will be 11 tables inside the Motorpoint at the outset of the tournament and with 127 competitors due to take to the baize in the first round it promises to be a barnstorming busy bonanza.
O’Sullivan’s form has taken a minor dip in recent weeks but he’ll still start as the favourite to land what would be a fourth Welsh Open title and begins his defence with a match against Australian Vinnie Calabrese.
All of the big names are in the hat for this one, with world no.1 Mark Selby taking on Alex Davies while Ding and Neil Robertson face Lee Walker and James Cahill respectively.
Shaun Murphy, arguably the most in-form player of 2015 so far having captured the Masters title in London before narrowly finishing runner-up to Selby in the German Masters last week, has fellow Englishman Steven Hallworth for company on the opening day and could potentially meet O’Sullivan in the last eight in a repeat of their Berlin clash at the same stage.
One of the most intriguing ties is that of home favourite Mark Williams and Chinese 17 year-old Lu Haotian.
Lu has been widely tipped as a future star since he was around 14 and last week beat another Welshman Dominic Dale to qualify for the upcoming Indian Open.
Williams, now 39, remains the host nation’s top ranked player and its last home champion – but that came all the way back in 1999 when he beat Stephen Hendry 9-8.
Williams has won the event twice – the other occasion being his first ranking event success in 1996 – but the Welsh potters have had a typically hard time of it on their own soil since then.
The Irish trio involved all fact tricky last 128 round clashes.
Ken Doherty has won back-to-back deciders to qualify for the Indian and China Opens and could be in for another long encounter as the two-time champion is challenged by another young Chinese hotshot in Zhou Yuelong.
Fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien will be looking to continue what has been a solid season so far for him as he takes on Sam Baird while David Morris is up against amateur Joe O’Connor, who beat Ben Woollaston and earned himself a trip to Beijing yesterday.