Monday, 21 February 2011

Paul Collier EXCLUSIVE column: Welsh Open wins back its wow factor

World Snooker referee Paul Collier is back with his first column of 2011.

Fresh from taking charge of seven matches in Newport, the Welshman bring his views exclusively to OnCue.

He talks about the success of last week's Welsh Open, the run of three home players and the brilliance of champion John Higgins...

The Welsh Open will always be a very special tournament to me.

In 1988, I was the marker in my first ever ranking event match at the Welsh Open, and in 2002 it brought me my first final.

Being a Welshman, it always gives me a great feeling, and it's the same for the Welsh public too.

A lot of people play snooker in Wales. There's still a lot of working men's clubs around, and people playing the game in small rooms.

The fans who go to the events are very knowledgeable, and it means a lot to them to have an event held in Wales.

Unfortunately, the Welsh Open is not viewed so highly by some other people in the game, but this year's tournament was such a great success. I think it won back some respect as a major ranking event, and not just an event, which makes up the numbers.

Obviously switching to the short format of best-of-seven-frame matches in the early round made a huge difference. I know there are some traditionalists who didn't like it, but I'm a traditionalist myself, and I thought it worked well.

By scrapping the mid-session intervals, the paying public could buy a daily pass and watch up to 16 professionals playing in matches in a roll-on-roll-off system. That's great value for money.

A lot was also made in the early rounds about the low partition between the two tables. I'll admit it was odd at first being able to see the other match, but I thought it worked well. Again, it's good for the fans, and at a venue like Newport, it really works.

The players didn't seem to lose their concentration and maybe it could work at somewhere like Telford in the future as well.

I think the main people who had a problem with it were the broadcasters. They like to air one game live and save the other one for a re-run, but they weren't able to do that as effectively, so maybe it affected their stats.

I was actually refereeing Graeme Dott's match against Neil Robertson match on the night Stephen Hendry made his 147 break. Once Graeme saw Stephen was down to his last red, he asked me if they could stop to watch it. I was never going to say no. It was a great moment.

Welsh wonders

I was given seven matches at the event, but I'd say my best was probably my first between Matthew Stevens and Anthony Hamilton.

You knew this was going to be a tough match for Stevens because Hamilton just doesn't give in. When I came off the table, some people were moaning it was a long match, but it honestly didn't feel like to me. I thought they played very well, and there was some good safety when there needed to be.

It was a great win for Matthew, and now he's right back in towards the top 16 places. That's where he deserves to be. He's a great match player, who has probably produced his best snooker at the World and UK Championships in the past, where you can't get away with being a bad player.

It was good to see Ryan Day win a couple of matches too. He's another Welsh player who has gone off the boil, but we all still know what a terrific player he is. You don't lose that. Maybe his priorities just changed, which caused a dip in form. But he seems to have got his eye back on the ball.

It's always good to see the Welsh lads do well at this tournament, because there's a lot of pressure on them, and it can be hard for them.

Mark Williams didn't show that pressure too much though, as he won his first two matches without dropping a single frame.

I'm lucky that I speak with Mark regularly and also get together with him socially. He's loving it at the moment. He's a happy and confident player. That seems to be reflected in his game too.

A lot of people said they were shocked when he lost to Stephen Maguire. Mark was playing well but when those top players meet, I'm never surprised by the result. They're all so good, these games can always go either way.

Maguire played well all week, and managed to get to the final. He's good to watch, and has a bright attacking game. That was his first final in more than three years, and I think he'll be back winning titles again soon.

Heroic Higgins

But the winner John Higgins was well worth the trophy in my opinion.

For me, he's got to be the best all round player of all time now. Stephen Hendry was pretty good in his day, but Higgins is now very close or even better.

The reason Higgins is so good is because his B-game is better than anybody else. That's the sign of a real great. He arrived in Newport just a week after burying his father and without practicing at all, but he managed to forget everything going on off the table. You have to be pretty special to manage that.

I also read he's not lost a major ranking event match since that epic with Steve Davis in Sheffield. While you've got to remember he didn't play in the World Open, the Shanghai Masters and pulled out of the German Masters, that's still eleven matches.

It's a great run, and at a time when the game is so competitive.

Saying that, I don't think we're likely to see a player win four events in a season again. That kind of dominance is pretty much gone from the sport.

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