Snooker’s Home Nations’ culmination gets underway this coming Monday with Shaun Murphy, who opens up against Basildon’s Zak Surety, looking to defend the title he won at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff almost one year ago.
We’re not returning to the Motorpoint this year but instead Celtic Manor Resort in Newport.
At least it’s actually in Wales though and not the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes where Darts and Snooker have been setting up for most of the last seven months due to the ongoing pandemic.
Sadly, unlike 12 months ago, this year fans remain locked out and will have to watch the live broadcasts at home. Indeed, last year’s Welsh Open was the last time snooker was played with fans in attendance, not with counting a tiny smattering in Sheffield for the World’s last August.
For the players though, all 128 of them in fact, this is a welcome return to tournament play. And, this is a straight forward format where games are played best of seven, nine and eleven frames upping to a best of seventeen for the final in a straight knockout draw.
It will come as no surprise that the top seeding goes to current world number one Judd Trump and it is right that he is considered to be the hot favourite to take the prize in Cardiff. Trump, who won his Championship League group a week ago, has been drawn against China’s Zhao Jianbo in round one.
A win here would, while not completing the set for the Bristolian – he missed out on the Scottish Open to Mark Selby – will at least sit nicely alongside his English Open, Northern Ireland Open, World Grand Prix and the German Masters titles already in the bag for the season.
Eye Catching Ties
The draw for this year’s renewal has now been made and already we have some eye catching ties.
Fittingly, an all Welsh tie between Mark Williams and Michael White is one of the most intriguing.
Former three times World Champion, Williams remains the only Welshman to ever lift the Welsh Open title which, given that its first run was back in 1992, is surprising.
The Welsh Potting Machine last took down this event in 2003 and, although he should survive this tough opener, will admit the draw could have been kinder.
Elsewhere, Scottish Open champ Mark Selby faces Barry Pinches, while Australia’s Neil Robertson opens up against Mark King.
While no guarantee, Selby and Robertson could very well collide in a potentially thrilling quarter-final clash providing the latter makes it past Masters champion Yan Bingtao should that fixture fall as expected.
An all Chinese affair has been also been drawn out the bag between German Masters winner Yan Bingtao and his countryman Su Xi.
Big Name Power
It’s hard to look too far beyond Trump however as he grows into a tournament, improving with each round and clearly benefits from playing on the TV table where the world’s best player, with Covid behind him, right now enjoys a massive advantage.
Only Kyren Wilson represents what I consider to be a threat and could interrupt Trump’s progress, at least in the nine frame stages.
There is much to be said as ever for TV’s biggest draw and arguably the game’s finest ever player, Ronnie O’Sullivan. At the Masters, the Rocket admitted to practising harder than and indeed looked very good before succumbing to John Higgins.
He also showed form at last week’s Championship League and has a particular soft spot for the Welsh Open as well as its trophy named in honour of his former coach and Welsh snooker legend, Ray Reardon.
We are now ten events into the season, and he has finished in the top two in both the Northern Ireland and Scottish Open so a sweet draw here, as he received, will do little to deter punters from backing the Essex man.