The semi-finals of the Welsh Open take place on Saturday with a quartet of perhaps unexpected names making up the last four in Cardiff.
Two legends of the game are joined by a pair of semi-final debutants as both ties represent battles of generations old and new.
Home favourite Mark Williams delighted the partisan crowd at the Motorpoint with a superb performance in beating Hong Kong’s Marco Fu on Friday.
Williams is the only ever player from Wales to win the long-established ranking event, the last coming way back in 1999 as the nation’s fans have waited a long time for the renewed hope of some local success.
The 39 year-old struggled for much of the last two seasons but showed signs of a return to form in the International Championship before Christmas when he was narrowly beaten a classic semi-final encounter with Mark Allen.
With getting inside the world’s top 16 gaining more significance this year following the change in the qualifying format for the World Championship, Williams was aware that a strong climax to the campaign could grant him an automatic berth at the Crucible.
Indeed, if he continues to perform to the level he did against Fu, with breaks of 108, 103, 80, 76 and 46 compiled in the 5-1 victory, Williams will be seeking silverware and the ultimate success of capturing trophies.
His first opportunity comes this weekend and he’ll undeniably be the favourite as he comes up against England’s Ben Woollaston, who reached a maiden ranking event semi-final with a 5-2 triumph over countryman Gary Wilson.
The 27 year-old has been knocking on the door for a few years now, but his run this week, where he has beaten Mark Davis, Mark Allen and Ali Carter, proves that he has the ability to mix it with the big boys on a more regular basis.
Woollaston will surely be feeling the nerves as he prepares to face home hero Williams so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him struggle with the new pressurised conditions of a one-table arena, but regardless of the result the Leicester competitor will establish himself well inside the world’s top 32 on the back of his displays already.
The second last four bout has a similar make-up, with an all-time legend being challenged by an up-and-coming talent.
Like Williams – even more so perhaps – Scotland’s John Higgins had been struggling for a couple of years to recapture the glory days of yesteryear but there had been a few glimpses of an upturn in fortunes in the last couple of months.
The three-time winner in Wales was not in scintillating form against Stephen Maguire in their quarter-final clash but didn’t need to be, comfortably outscoring his countryman for a 5-1 win.
Higgins, also 39, must face a young competitor 20 years his junior, and a boy who has had to carry the weight of expectation on his shoulders from a much earlier age than that still.
Luca Brecel consolidated his cracking victory over world champion Mark Selby with another comeback conquering of a top 16 player in Ricky Walden yesterday.
Brecel looked to be heading out at 3-0 down but won an important fourth frame before the mid-session interval to get on the scoreboard and never looked back after the break – winning five frames on the spin for a 5-3 defeat of Chengdu’s champion.
With it, the Belgian eclipses his previous best performance in reaching the last eight of the 2012 UK Championship and he reconfirmed his status as Europe’s hottest property when it comes to snooker.
So two exciting encounters to looks forward to, with three possible types of finals to come on Sunday.
Will is be a battle of the legends, a duel between two pretenders, or an amalgamation of both?
Either way, it promises to be a fascinating finish to this year’s Welsh Open.
Categories: Snooker News