Thursday, 16 February 2012

Down to the nitty gritty in Newport

We're at the stage of the Welsh Open we call the "business end" of the tournament.

Only eight players remain in Newport, each with two wins under their belt and bidding to become this year's pride of Wales.

There are only three days left on the baize and it's a game a day with the winning post now in sight  There may be no Welshmen left in the hat, but we've still got a stellar line-up.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Ding Junhui faces Stephen Lee in the first quarter-final; and it's an important week for both men.

The Chinese star has gone a little off the boil of late. After taking a break at the back end of the PTC series, he's returned a little ring rusty.

Defeats in the opening rounds of the Masters and German Masters has left a few question marks hovering, and he's yet to claim a trophy so far this season.

He was near the top of most people's list to lift some silverware this term but, as yet, it hasn't materialised.

Long gone are the days when Ding battled his eternal enemy, confidence. These days he's capable of springing into life at any point. A 4-0 demolition of Mark Davis followed by a dramatic deciding frame win versus defending champion John Higgins so far suggest he's on the comeback trail.

Lee has his owns priorities. Fresh from a good run to the semi-final in Berlin, he's looked comfortable building on that. Back in the top 16, his task is now to re-establish himself among the elite. Wins against Tom Ford and Michael Holt have put him on the right track, but Ding will pose his toughest test yet.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Next on the menu is Shaun Murphy against this week's star man, Mark Allen.

The tenacious Northern Irishman has glided to the quarter-finals so far with back-to-back 4-0 wins against Stephen Hendry and Ken Doherty. Allen is just oozing with confidence and it looks like only a matter of time before he chalks up his maiden ranking title.

Murphy has both the experience and form to stand in his way though.

He's been hitting the cue ball at his crisp best in recent weeks but looks like he's still got a few gears to go through in this tournament yet.

Shaun has the safety game and tactical nous to stop Allen's so far bulldozing form. He may still be too hot to handle.

In the other half of the draw, Ronnie O'Sullivan meets Judd Trump.

Picture by Monique Limbos
The Rocket is always a dangerous proposition, but perhaps now more so than for a long time. The pressure was on him in Germany to fight to retain his top 16 place ahead of this season's World Championship. He duly replied by winning the tournament.

As a result, he's steadily played himself into fine form.

His 4-1 win against Mark Williams today was impressive. He had the cue ball on a string.

He's obviously got the taste back for winning ranking events and could easily add another on Sunday.

Clashes with Trump are becoming a regular occurrence but this promises to be another thriller.

Judd has had the better of the meetings so far but could need a bigger performance.

After beating O'Sullivan at the Masters he said Ronnie could still win trophies if he avoids him in the draw. That adds a small plot to this match. But more importantly, this is a game between two players who massively respect each other, and the quality should be high. 

Picture by Monique Limbos
The final match sees Stephen Maguire lock horns with Mark Selby.

The Scot has enjoyed a stark resurgence of form of late. His victory against fellow countryman Higgins at the UK Championship has been the catalyst for a splendid run helping him to the PTC12 title and runner-up in the German Masters.

His 4-2 win against Matthew Stevens today showed there are few signs of him letting up.

You can see he is enjoying his snooker again, and what a difference it makes to be winning. Stephen is a boisterous player who has rekindled his authority at the table. When he hits top form, he's as good as anyone to watch.

Selby has not been playing such finely tuned snooker. You get the sense that since taking his place at the head of the world rankings he's felt the pressure of being the one everyone wants to beat.

A 4-1 win against Martin Gould got him here. He's back at latter stages of an event and probably has done enough so far to give himself something to build on. We know Mark can often produce his best in the biggest matches so this tough tie could be right up his street.

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