Welsh Open Final: Higgins vs Woollaston Preview

The final of the 2015 BetVictor Welsh Open will be contested between John Higgins and Ben Woollaston today in Cardiff.

Higgins and Woollaston have only met twice before, with the former winning both matches - photos courtesy of Monique Limbos.
Higgins and Woollaston have only met twice before, with the former winning both matches – photos courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Not many, if anybody, would have predicted a final between these two players before the tournament started a week ago at the Motorpoint Arena.

Higgins, a legend maybe, had not featured in a ranking event semi-final in almost two years while Woollaston hadn’t even ever tasted the atmosphere of a single table set-up of a last four clash.

Both competitors were made to work extremely hard in overcoming the penultimate hurdle to winning the third longest running event behind the World and UK Championships.

But it was perhaps Leicester’s Woollaston who was the most impressive, battling not only his dearth of experience compared to opponent Mark Williams, but also the partisan home crowd who were willing their hero on to make a fourth final in Wales.

One would have forgiven the unassuming 27 year-old for wilting under the pressure but, despite losing a dramatic 10th frame that ensured Williams came from 5-3 down to force a decider, Woollaston knocked in a break of 60 to win it at the death.

Three-time champion Higgins was involved in a similarly tight tussle with teenager Luca Brecel that also almost went the distance.

In an often high-quality and high scoring encounter, the Scot opened the match sensationally with two tons before the young Belgian challenger hit back to take a 3-2 advantage.

Higgins, though, proved that class is permanent and, after leveling again, breaks of 72, 135 and 50 earned him three out of the last four frames for a typically hard-fought 6-4 triumph.

Brecel will be disappointed but he proved again the potential that he possesses and one feel it’s only a matter of time before he breaks into the higher echelons of the sport – something that could be vital for the continued progression of the sport in mainland Europe.

For Higgins, it marks a welcome return to the high table, of which he has been noticeably absent from since the summer of 2013.

Many were quick to write off the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ as a has-been but it’s incredibly difficult to keep a star performer like that down permanently.

Even if the big results aren’t produced as consistently as they once were, the ability is still in there somewhere waiting to come out in what could translate, like this week, into sudden triumphant busts.

The 39 year-old will undoubtedly start the final as the heavy favourite, but the same was said prior to Woollaston’s bout with Williams.

Going against Woollaston is the fact that his last four clash ran late into Saturday night, hampering his preparation time for Sunday’s final.

Although making his maiden appearance in a major final should provide him with the adrenaline boost required to get through the day.

It’s refreshing to see a new player break up the dominant mould of regular finalists on the circuit.

It’s great to see star-studded showdowns between the likes of O’Sullivan and Trump, Selby and Robertson, but it is equally enthralling to watch a newcomer enter the fold and compare how he is able to handle these pressure cooker occasions.

The safe bet’s on Higgins, but this tournament has seen the form guide been thrown out the window, so anything’s possible yet.

The final is on Eurosport and BBC Wales from 1pm and 7pm GMT.

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