Monday, 13 February 2012

Nearly time for Newport

The tournaments are coming thick and fast now and today it's time for the start of the Welsh Open.

We're back in Newport and in a country which has produced some of the game's real greats.

The Welsh Open has an excellent history and this week's line-up suggest we could be in for another.

It's big week for Sam Baird and Adam Wicheard, who will be making their debut at a major venue. They are two young players who excite me. While they both boast a proficient attacking game, they've also shown all-round matchplay to come through some tough ties.

Many of the other qualifiers are more experienced players that will go down well with the adoring Welsh crowd.

Former world champions Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon all made it through. Then there's Andy Hicks, Mark King, Mark Davis and Fergal O'Brien who continue to show age is no barrier to competing at the top level.

Picking a winner for this tournament is as usual, a minefield.

The top 16 is packed with players good enough to be regularly winning trophies.

My first question is whether Ronnie O'Sullivan has got a taste for success after his win at the German Masters double? Could he make it a quickfire ranking event double?

You can't mention the German event without a word for Stephen Maguire. He was sensational all week and was of course runner-up in the Welsh Open just a year ago.

Looking further, Mark Selby is in need of a decent run at a major tournament after stalling of late. Neil Robertson continues to be a threat at every tournament and then there's Ding Junhui. He lost to Yu Delu in the first round in Germany and will be keen to bounce back.

We know Judd Trump is capable and Shaun Murphy is coming back to his best.

It would be silly to write off reigning champion John Higgins or Mark Williams either. They're both experienced champions and are never far away from top form.

My pick this time round though is for Northern Ireland's Mark Allen. A maiden major ranking event title continues to elude him but you feel it can't be far away now. His performance at the UK Championship captured everyone's imagination and victory in group 6 of the Championship League just last week shows he's match sharp.

The opening rounds of this year's tournament will again be played in a best-of-seven-frame format. This isn't universally popular but means every match is on TV.

Full first round draw: 

John Higgins v Liang Wenbo
Ding Junhui v Mark Davis
Graeme Dott v Tom Ford
Stephen Lee v Michael Holt
Shaun Murphy v Mark Joyce
Mark Allen v Ken Doherty
Ali Carter v Steve Davis
Ronnie O'Sullivan v Marco Fu
Mark Williams v Andy Hicks
Stuart Bingham v Mark King
Judd Trump v Fergal O'Brien
Matthew Stevens v Barry Hawkins
Martin Gould v Peter Ebdon
Mark Selby v Sam Baird
Stephen Maguire v Adam Wicheard

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