Welsh Open semi-finals

Welsh Open Semi-Finals Preview

The Welsh Open semi-finals will be contested between two former champions and a couple of young pretenders on Saturday at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff.

Neil Robertson fought back superbly from 4-2 down against Kurt Maflin, knocking in breaks of 69, 136, and 67 to deny the Norwegian in a decider.

Robertson, champion twelve years ago when the sport’s third longest running ranking event was previously staged in Newport, will face Hossein Vafaei.

In the other Welsh Open semi-finals clash, 2017 champion Stuart Bingham will meet fellow Englishman Joe O’Connor after the rookie produced a brilliant performance to knock out the defending champion John Higgins.

O’Connor, experiencing his debut campaign on the Main Tour, tallied runs of 73, 72, and 70 to lead the record five-time winner 4-3 before a quite magnificent 131 century break sealed a famous victory.

The 23 year-old from Leicester generated headlines in the recent UK Championship when he dumped Ryan Day out in the opening round in York but this showing is undoubtedly his finest achievement as a professional to date.

World number 103 O’Connor, the English amateur champion from 2018, will now be tested further as he gets to experience the single table situation of an important event for the first time.

Bingham remained on course for a sixth ranking success – and a third in the Home Nations series – after a 5-2 defeat of Zhao Xintong.

The 2015 world champion suffered from a late-match wobble but had already done the hard work when breaks of 134, 99, 67, and 59 helped him to a 4-1 lead.

The 42 year-old will be an overwhelming favourite to progress to what would represent a third Welsh Open title decider in seven years.

Bingham and O’Connor, who had never been beyond the last 32 of a ranker prior to this week, have never met before in competition.

Robertson, meanwhile, will begin to feel like his name could already be etched on the Ray Reardon Trophy after completing a second sensational turnaround to reach the Welsh Open semi-finals.

The Melbourne man fought back from 3-1 down to win the last three frames against Paul Davison in the third round before repeating the trick against Maflin on Friday.

Robertson is already guaranteed a share of the maximum break bonus after his terrific 147 against Jordan Brown in the opening round.

Against Iran’s Vafaei, he will next come up against a player heralded as a potential future member of the elite.

Vafaei, who has endured numerous visa woes since first turning professional in 2012, is one of just a few players to record the World Amateur Championship double at both senior and under-21 level.

Still just 24, Vafaei has matched his best run in a ranking event when he reached the penultimate round of the China Open in 2017.

A year before that in qualifying for the Beijing tournament, Vafaei and Robertson crossed paths for the one and only occasion with the latter emerging as a 5-3 victor.

The experience obviously lies with Robertson as the 37 year-old, winner of the Riga Masters at the outset of the season, continues his search for a 15th ranking success.

But Vafaei is dangerous and, of the two surprise contenders in the Welsh Open semi-finals, he would be the most likely to spring another upset in what has been an event full of them.

Live coverage of all Welsh Open semi-finals will be on Eurosport, Quest, and BBC Wales.

Click here to view the draw (Times: CET)

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