Welsh Open Preview

The World Grand Prix reaches its conclusion later today but thoughts will immediately turn to the next ranking event, which starts in Cardiff with the Coral Welsh Open on Monday.

Ronnie O'Sullivan Welsh Open
Ronnie currently shares the record of most Welsh Open wins with John Higgins. Photo credit: Monique Limbos.

Staged every year since 1992, the Welsh Open is the third longest continuously running ranking event behind only the World and UK Championships, thus is steeped in history.

The roll of honour represents a who’s who of the sport’s best players over the last three decades with every name etched on the trophy a multiple ranking event champion.

The tournament has particularly flourished in the last few seasons under the Barry Hearn era, with increased publicity, better sponsors, and a move to the Motorpoint Arena in the capital city all helping to pull in bigger crowds and raise its overall stature.

Ronnie O’Sullivan is the defending champion and will make his return as the favourite for a record fifth title in the snooker betting.

The Englishman, who won a record seventh Masters crown in January, has suffered from a touch of inconsistency of late with early defeats to Mark King and Neil Robertson in the German Masters and World Grand Prix respectively.

O’Sullivan is fond of the Welsh Open, though, having tasted success in two out of the last three editions, and will look to get this tilt off to a strong start when he takes on Tom Ford in the opening round on Tuesday.

With 128 competitors cueing up in the draw and seven rounds to contend with, the opening exchanges during the short best of seven rounds will surely be a case of simply jostling for position, overcoming initial hurdles, and reaching the quarter-finals where the event comes into its own.

On the opposite side of the draw to O’Sullivan is prime rival Mark Selby, with the world no.1 seeking to put his own indifferent form from 2017 so far behind him when he plays Liam Highfield in the first round.

Elsewhere, arguably the pick of the early ties has 2007 champion Neil Robertson facing the “Whirlwind” Jimmy White.

White, the oldest player on the circuit at 54, has been a rejuvenated force this season after losing four stone and is currently on course to receive a fresh two-year tour card for his efforts, but will need a few more wins before the campaign’s climax to make that a guarantee.

Robertson will obviously begin the encounter as the heavy favourite but the Australian has been another marquee name who has suffered amid a spell of patchy performances.

Another eye-catching opening affair sees World Open champion Ali Carter entertain one of the talented teenage trio from China, Zhao Xintong.

The pair duelled in a thriller at the recent German Masters, with the “Captain” just about overcoming the young Chinese 5-4 en route to his final appearance at the Tempodrom.

Fifteen Welsh players will be attempting to become the first home champion since Mark Williams’ second success an incredible 18 years ago.

Williams gets his campaign going against Elliot Slessor while Michael White and Duane Jones have been drawn together in one of the two all-Welsh ties.

Ryan Day, who on Sunday bids for a maiden ranking event trophy in Preston, must make a quick getaway from the Guild Hall in victory or defeat as he is scheduled to play David Gilbert on the opening afternoon of his home tournament.

Of the Irish, Ken Doherty is in desperate need of a strong showing given his imminent drop outside the world’s top 64, but could run into Mark Allen in the second round if he manages to first bypass Boonyarit Kaettikun.

Fellow Dubliner Fergal O’Brien is in the same bracket as O’Sullivan, with Cao Yupeng his initial obstacle, while rookie Josh Boileau will be looking to kick start his tenure as a professional in a winnable bout against similarly ranked Hammad Miah.

The Welsh Open is the final chapter in the inaugural Home Nations and, while there is no million pound bonus up for grabs for a quadruple champion, it still promises to be a compelling and competitive week of snooker.

Will the trend of Welsh Open champions hailing from the higher echelons of the sport continue, or might there be yet another first-time victor à la the English and Northern Ireland Opens previously in the series?

We don’t have long to find out.

Coverage will be provided by Eurosport and BBC Wales.

Click here to view the draw. Times: CET

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