Welsh Open Preview

The 2016 BetVictor Welsh Open gets under way on Monday in Cardiff.

John Higgins Welsh Open Champion
Higgins won three ranking events in 2015 – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Since its move to the Motorpoint Arena last year, the Welsh Open is one of only two ranking events which can be played from start to finish at the same venue, and without the need for qualifiers elsewhere.

This means that 128 players will set out from tomorrow to attempt to capture the third oldest ranking event in the Welsh capital.

With 12 tables in operation for the early rounds and matches consisting of a meagre best of seven frames, the entire first round of a mammoth 64 encounters will take place on the opening day.

The scheduling is packed and it will not be surprising to see at least a few of these clashes go well past midnight, something which will surely create quite a lot of ire among certain players.

Nevertheless, the system of completing one full round per day continues all the way until Sunday, where £60,000 is up for grabs for the winner.

The defending champion is John Higgins, but the Scot will face stiff competition if he is to lift the trophy for a record fifth time.

All of the marquee names have entered, including Ronnie O’Sullivan who will perhaps be competing in his last event before the World Championship in April.

World no.1  Mark Selby is looking for his first big title of the campaign but feels the tournament is richer for with the inclusion of the ‘Rocket’.

“It makes it more special to win a tournament when he is in the field,” said Selby, who beat O’Sullivan in the 2008 final.

“Even if you don’t end up playing him, you still know at the back of your mind that you’ve won an event when he was in it. He is always the man to beat when he turns up to a tournament in the right frame of mind.

“Any time Ronnie plays in a tournament it helps give it an extra buzz and I’m sure it makes a difference to the TV figures and live crowds. Cardiff is a great venue and I really enjoyed playing there last year.”

Ranking events in the last 12 months have conjured up an array of upsets, but the short format in the Welsh Open especially lends itself to the possibility of that trend continuing this week.

Not until the quarter-finals do the matches reach the best of nine, giving the tournament a distinctly Players Championship series feel to it.

That said, while the Welsh Open, which began in 1992, for many years during the start of this century felt like the misplaced and forgotten competition, in recent years there has been a greater level of prestige surrounding its presence on the calendar.

That perhaps is highlighted by the fact that only big-name players have emerged victorious, indeed a scenario that has been the case right throughout the tournament’s history.

Prize money has also increased to respectable levels, aided by the continued partnership with BetVictor that is now into its fourth edition.

Additionally, the timing of the Welsh Open gives it great significance in terms of the race to the Crucible, with the top 16 in the world rankings automatically reaching the Worlds, therefore avoiding the dreaded three-round qualifiers.

Two players who are in real danger of missing out are Stephen Maguire and, in particular, Ding Junhui.

Both men are former Welsh Open champions and will be desperate for a good run over the coming days to ease their ranking woes.

Click here to view the full draw.


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