A week on from the conclusion of the German Masters comes the season’s latest big ranking event as four-time winner John Higgins begins the defence of his BetVictor Welsh Open title in Cardiff.
As was the case in 2015 when the tournament returned to the capital following a decade at the Newport Centre, the event will begin with a bang, with all 128 players in action across 12 tables on the opening Monday.
In fact there will be a round completed every day, with seven rounds across seven days and although not a marathon of Crucible proportions it will nevertheless be interesting to see who can sustain their form throughout the week.
As ever at this time of the year, the event is of importance not only in respect of the title on offer, but various ranking lists and event qualification races including the World Grand Prix which I looked at yesterday.
Again, the tournament will see matches played over the best of seven frames up to and including the last 16, before increasing to nine, 11 and ultimately 17 for the final.
The action will be broadcast by BBC Wales and British Eurosport.
- Click here to view the draw for the venue stages of the Welsh Open
- Click here to view the order of play in Cardiff
- Click here to view the latest projected seedings
The Top Quarter
Heading up the draw is Scotland’s John Higgins, who last year announced his return to form by becoming the first player to win the event on four separate occasions.
This time around he has been given a tricky opening round match against former World Championship semi-finalist Andy Hicks, who has already pushed Barry Hawkins all the way at the UK Championship and only last week gave Stephen Maguire a real game in the China Open qualifiers, losing 5-3.
Looking ahead, a last 32 clash against old rival Peter Ebdon or perhaps Jamie Jones could await, with Liang Wenbo and Michael White the highest two seeds potentially awaiting in the last 16.
In the other half of this quarter we have the likes of Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins, who have already met at the Masters and World Championship events in recent months and could face each other again in the last 16 in Cardiff.
That said, home favourite Ryan Day looked to be playing well at last week’s German Masters and could face Allen at the last 32 stage, while Mark Davis is another contender, albeit having been handed an early test against dangerous amateur Zhao Xintong in the first round.
Other themes to follow in this section? Sam Baird will be hoping to boost his claim to a season-end top 64 spot with a win against Thor Chuan Leong, while Mike Dunn is 33rd in the race to the World Grand Prix and will be hoping to close the gap to Mark Joyce above him in that particular battle.
The Second Quarter
Moving on to the second section and we find Shaun Murphy and Neil Robertson on a collision course for the quarter-finals, although it is far from a certainty that either will progress that far.
For Murphy it would be a surprise to see him lose out to Itaro Santos on day one, but in Zhou Yuelong and Mitchell Mann he will have a dangerous second round opponent either way, particularly given the best of seven frames format adopted in the early rounds.
German Masters finalist Luca Brecel could then await in the last 32, before a potential last 16 clash with former BetVictor Welsh Open champion Ding Junhui, who of course will be desperate to return to form with his automatic seeding for this season’s World Championship in real peril at present.
Looking to give Ding further pain in his section however will be the likes of Matt Selt and Joe Swail, who he could yet face before any potential match with Murphy.
In the bottom half of this section meanwhile Neil Robertson will begin his campaign for a second BetVictor Welsh Open title against Fraser Patrick, with Marco Fu and Graeme Dott amongst those standing in his way.
Anthony McGill will be looking to kickstart his season and begins against PIOS contemporary Liam Highfield, while Thepchaiya Un-Nooh will be another of those eyeing a run to strengthen his position for World Grand Prix qualification.
The Third Quarter
Turning to the bottom half of the draw, the third quarter sees former BetVictor Welsh Open champions Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan on course for a repeat of their recent Masters quarter-final in Cardiff.
Selby’s draw in particular however is far from straight-forward with the likes of Ali Carter and Fergal O’Brien awaiting him by the last 32 stage and Mark Williams or Kyren Wilson potentially in the last 16.
For O’Sullivan on the other hand, his draw sees him in with a number of players against whom he has a strong previous record, the out of form Ricky Walden and Gloucester’s Robert Milkins his highest seeded potential opposition prior to the quarter-finals.
That said, he did not look to be himself at this event last year and it will be interesting to see his form against Barry Pinches in his opening match. He will also have the added incentive of needing to at least reach the final, probably win the event if he is to qualify for the World Grand Prix later this season in Llandudno.
Other notable matches in this section include the all-Leeds affair between David Grace and Peter Lines, the latter desperately trying to secure enough prize money to retain his main tour card at the end of the season.
Former BetVictor Welsh Open champion Ali Carter has a potential banana skin in the form of Cao Yupeng in his opener, while amateur Ashley Hugill, conqueror of Neil Robertson at the German Masters qualifiers, plays Tian Pengfei for the right to potentially meet O’Sullivan.
The Bottom Quarter
The final section of the draw is headed by Judd Trump, who is seeded to meet former BetVictor Welsh Open runner-up Stuart Bingham at the quarter-final stage.
Potentially lying in wait are the likes of Alan McManus or Mark Joyce by the last 32 stage, the latter of course having caused him problems in the past, twice having knocked him out of the UK Championship.
Further ahead, Joe Perry and David Gilbert look to be his most likely opponents in the last 16 stage, or potentially one of three Chinese players present, led by 55th seed Li Hang.
The bottom section meanwhile looks to be one of the most tricky parts of the draw, with Stuart Bingham, Stephen Maguire, Martin Gould and 2015 runner-up Ben Woollaston all present, amongst other dangerous players.
Like top seeded Higgins, Bingham could have hoped for an easier opener than one of the game’s great century break makers Anthony Hamilton, while he could then play either Oliver Lines or Allan Taylor in the second round.
It is even more difficult to call a winner from the section housing Dominic Dale, Alfie Burden, Ben Woollaston and Jamie Cope, while former UK champions Stephen Maguire and Matthew Stevens could meet as early as the last 64.
With last week’s Berlin winner Martin Gould on course to meet either Maguire or Stevens by the last 32 stage, this bottom section is very much one to keep an eye on for the neutrals…
For all of the latest news from the BetVictor Welsh Open, please check worldsnooker.com, or alternatively follow my updates via Twitter at @prosnookerblog