Welsh Open: Quarter Final Preview

Eight remain in the hunt for the Welsh Open title as the last event in the Home Nations series reaches the business end in Cardiff.

Trump beat Hawkins in the semi-finals of this season’s English Open. Photo credit: Monique Limbos

There’s guaranteed to be a new name etched on the trophy after a tournament of shocks has developed an unlikely last eight line-up.

Only three competitors with previous experience winning a ranking event are still in contention, with five others bidding to become the latest in a string of maiden champions.

Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins are the two favourites but, as luck would have it, the pair of Englishmen run into each other on Friday.

Trump has been in strong form so far, taking full advantage of not having to play anybody ranked higher than 49 up until this point.

Hawkins has dropped only two frames in his opening four contests, and will surely fancy his chances of capturing consecutive ranking titles if he can manoeuvre his way past Trump into the semi-finals.

The 37 year-old overcame Trump en route to his World Grand Prix glory last week in Preston, and boasts an overall superior head-to-head record against the former world no.1.

Given the competition left in the draw, both will realise the potential opportunity at stake for the victor so it may well prove to be a cagey encounter at the Motorpoint Arena.

The only other cueist who knows how to obtain silverware is in the opposite side of the draw, with 2015 world champion Stuart Bingham challenged by Stuart Carrington.

The latter has embarked on a run to this stage of a ranking event for the first time in his career after triumphs against Robin Hull and Igor Figueiredo on Thursday.

Bingham will naturally be the favourite to win the battle of the Stuarts, and perhaps unsurprisingly holds the edge from their previous ties with three victories out of three.

Barring small blips here and there, the 40 year-old has enjoyed a very consistent campaign to date with four ranking event semis as well as a couple of final appearances in invitation competitions.

That the world no.2 hasn’t been able to get his hands on any silverware since his Crucible success almost two years ago is something Bingham is desperate to eradicate, and he couldn’t really have been handed a clearer opportunity to at least go on and reach this final.

However, no result seems to be guaranteed at the moment with anybody seemingly able to match even the very best on any given day.

Also in Bingham’s half is the tie between Robert Milkins and Kurt Maflin, who have crossed paths on five occasions in the past.

The most high-profile of these came during qualifying for last year’s World Championship, when the “Milkman” duly delivered with a 10-7 victory at Ponds Forge.

Milkins has five previous appearances in the semi-finals of ranking events and is one of the names frequently bandied about as being one of the best to have never won one.

Both Milkins and Maflin possess a natural, attacking style of play so this encounter has the prospect of being keen on the eye.

While neither man has had to overcome any player of particularly high ranking, Maflin would have gained confidence from his dominant denial of teenage talent Yan Bingtao in the last 16, especially after the Chinese 17 year-old had earlier knocked out world champion Mark Selby in telling fashion.

The other match sees a young duo who, like Carrington, will feature at the quarter-final stage of a ranking event for the first time.

Zhou Yuelong ended any dying hopes of a home triumph when he whitewashed Lee Walker in the last round, setting up a clash with Scotland’s Scott Donaldson.

Zhou, still only 19, and 22 year-old Donaldson have never played each other in professional competition so there’s not much to go on there.

The Chinese will probably be regarded as the favourite given the pedigree he possesses and the rave reviews he has already garnered from fellow players and fans alike over the last couple of years.

Yet, as both men are lacking in experience any outcome is possible, especially in a tournament which has already proven rather impossible to predict.

Click here to view the draw.

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