By Gareth Axenderrie
The 2017 Coral Welsh Open returns to Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena this week as the world’s finest snooker players descend upon the Welsh capital in a bid to pocket major prize money and ranking points in one of snooker’s most prestigious events.
The event has attracted controversy since moving to the capital in 2015. Four time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan made clear his dissatisfaction with the change of venue in 2015, describing the Motorpoint Arena as “a shopping mall”. A year later, he declined the opportunity to score a maximum break of 147, describing the £10,000 cheque as “too cheap”.
Despite his protestations, ‘The Rocket’ will be most people’s favourite this week. Coming off the back of a record seventh Masters title, and the defending champion, Ronnie favours the shorter format of the game. Building momentum quickly and getting on and off the table in quick time is where he is most comfortable, and the Welsh open suits this style.
So, who can challenge the mercurial ‘Rocket’ this week?
World Champion and World Number One Mark Selby is an obvious challenger. ‘The Jester from Leicester’ has the best safety in the game, and despite only winning The Welsh Open once when he beat O’Sullivan 9-8 in 2008, he will be keen to get his hands on his first trophy of 2017. Also a four time winner, John Higgins is always a threat, winning in Cardiff as recently as 2015. The X-factor duo of Judd Trump and Neil Robertson are scoring as highly as ever (they scored the highest breaks at the Masters), but both have struggled to win silverware recently. Then there is wildcard Anthony Hamilton, who comes into the tournament off the back of a first win at the German Masters earlier this month.
A sad fact each time the snooker circus rolls into town is the realisation in snooker halls across Wales that the tournament favourites are almost always void of Welshmen. A country that has produced great snooker names like Reardon and Griffiths, now struggles to produce title challenging players. Mark Williams is still there, but the two-time World Champion from Ebbw Vale hasn’t won a ranking event since his German Masters success in 2011. Keep an eye out for the upcoming Michael White, who will hope to harness home advantage, but the chances of a welsh name appearing on the Snowdonia slate trophy appear as slim as ever.