The third longest-running ranking event takes place this week.
Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan are among the stars in the draw for the Welsh Open, which commences on Monday at the Celtic Manor Resort.
For the first time this season, there will be snooker action away from Milton Keynes – although fans are still not permitted to attend.
Still, after contesting the German Masters, Northern Ireland Open, and Scottish Open events at the Marshall Arena, it’s a welcome return to some form of normality that the Welsh Open can, in fact, take place on home turf in Wales.
Prize, History, and Format
The Welsh Open is one of the oldest professional ranking events on the calendar, third only to the World Championship and the UK Championship.
The tournament was launched all the way back in 1992, when then world number one Stephen Hendry beat home favourite Darren Morgan in the final to claim the inaugural title.
Since then, most of the game’s biggest stars have etched their names onto the trophy – including O’Sullivan, Steve Davis, John Higgins, Mark Selby, Ding Junhui, Ken Doherty, Paul Hunter, and Neil Robertson.
Mark Williams has been the only home winner, capturing the trophy in both 1996 and 1999, but Welsh players have generally struggled to feature prominently over the years.
Shaun Murphy is the defending champion after his 9-1 thrashing of Kyren Wilson in last year’s title decider.
One notable absentee from the roll of honour is Trump, with the Welsh Open representing one of the few competitions on the schedule that he hasn’t now triumphed in.
The world number one, who has won an astonishing dozen ranking events in the last 24 months, narrowly lost in a decider to Stuart Bingham in the final four years ago.
Since that edition in 2017, the Welsh Open has been part of the Home Nations series, and as well as a top prize worth £70,000, the champion gets to raise the Ray Reardon Trophy aloft.
The format for the Welsh Open is the same as every other Home Nations event, with best-of-seven matches required in the early rounds to whittle the draw down from 128 to eight, before the length is increased to nine for the quarter-finals, 11 for the semi-finals, and 17 for next Sunday’s final.
With the 2020/21 snooker season very much in its second half, there are various ranking squabbles to keep an eye on next week.
The Welsh Open offers the last opportunity for players to make a move in the race to the Players Championship.
Only the top 16 on the one-year ranking list will qualify for the lucrative ranking tournament at the end of February.
Similarly, it’ll be around this period when a lot of the competitors lower down the rankings will begin to fret about their tour survival aspirations.
This year’s Welsh Open is also the fifth leg out of six in the European Series, where the top earner after all the tournaments are completed will earn a handy £150,000 bonus.
Trump currently leads the way with £120,500, ahead of Selby with £108,000 and Ryan Day in third on £62,000 after the latter’s success in last week’s Shoot Out.
WSS well on with the rig for the Welsh Open, Celtic Manor Resort pic.twitter.com/AWWXsxjJsi
— WorldSnookerServices. Tournament installers (@snookerservices) February 13, 2021
2021 Welsh Open Draw
As usual, all 128 players enter at the same stage, and with the short format in the early rounds it’s generally difficult to predict what’s going to happen.
That being said, every ranking event final so far this campaign – nine in total – has featured at least one of Trump, Robertson, or Selby.
Trump, bidding for a fifth piece of silverware this term, takes on rookie Zhao Jianbo in the first round of the Welsh Open draw.
Robertson faces a trickier test on paper against the more experienced Mark King, while Selby is in action against veteran Barry Pinches.
Reigning champion Shaun Murphy’s first obstacle to overcome will be Zak Surety, with Ronnie O’Sullivan up against Robbie Williams.
Mark Williams, who last reached the final 18 years ago, is involved in arguably the tie of the opening round against countryman Michael White.
Ryan Day, Matthew Stevens, and Jamie Jones will be among the other Welshmen hoping to make their mark when they entertain Ian Burns, James Cahill, and Yuan Sijun respectively.
Masters champion Yan Bingtao and Chinese number one Ding Junhui face countrymen Xu Si and Lyu Haotian.
A frenetic schedule ensures that the matches come thick and fast for the first four days, and it’s not usually until Friday’s quarter-final line-up is revealed that we can get a better sense of who might actually emerge with the title.
Click here to view the full Welsh Open draw (Scheduled times in CET)
Where to Watch the Welsh Open
The tournament will be available to UK and Irish viewers on Quest TV in addition to blanket Eurosport coverage provided across all of Europe.
BBC Wales will cover the play locally and various broadcasters around the world will be offering coverage too (information here), while fans in territories without another service can access the event through the Matchroom.Live streaming service.
As has become the norm since last year, the tournament in its entirety will be staged behind closed doors.
Featured photo credit: WST