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2017 WELSH OPEN | SPORTS PREVIEW

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Cue the return of snooker to Wales! Jacob Mier takes a look at what to expect from the Welsh Open this year.

Snooker fans can rejoice as the Welsh Open once again returns to Cardiff in February, where 128 players will compete for a top prize of £70,000. Cueing up for action at the Motorpoint Arena, which has been the home of the Welsh Open for three years now, will be the defending champion and current world number 13 Ronnie O’Sullivan, who last year beat Aussie Neil Robertson in the final 9-5.

On the way to this victory, O’Sullivan controversially decided against hitting a maximum break in the first round, deeming the £10,000 bonus too low. His ultimate triumph was certainly no laughing matter, however, bagging the tournament for the fourth time. The question now is whether the Rocket will be able to defend his crown for a second pair of consecutive victories, or whether he will be unseated by another player.

In good form at the moment is Marco Fu, who rounded off 2016 in good form with a victory at the Scottish Open in December. Still to come is the coveted Dafabet Masters in London, and the German Masters in Berlin; with a variety of winners over the last few years, it’s anyone’s guess who might lift the trophy and bag £70,000 this year.

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Playing well this season is John Higgins, the world number 3, who won back-to-back ranking events in November, and is a four-time winner of the Welsh Open – joint with Ronnie for the most victories. Last victor in 2015, could he reclaim the title from the Rocket again this year? Scottish snooker fans would like to think so. Meanwhile, Wales still has a couple of dragons flying around the circuit, and having one win the Welsh Open would certainly be poetic.

Amongst the hopefuls will be Mark Williams, two-time world champion from Ebbw Vale, who still stands at a respectable 15 in the snooker world rankings. After turning professional in 1992, and garnering 18 ranking titles over the course of 24 years, he also won his inaugural World Seniors Championship in 2015 at the sprightly age of 39. Williams has previously won the Welsh Open twice, in 1996 and 1999, when the tournament first came to Cardiff; no Welsh player has won the tournament since then.

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Also carrying the flag for Wales is the current world number 23, Michael White from Neath, who aged nine became the youngest player to achieve a professional century break, and was world amateur champion by the age of 14. Full-time professional since 2009, his terrific run of form in March 2015 saw him win his first professional tournament, the Snooker Shoot-Out, immediately followed by his first ranking title at the Indian Open. 2015 was probably Michael’s best year so far; he rose to his highest place of 15th in early 2016, but since then has seen limited success.

Last year he was eliminated at the quarter-final stages of the Welsh Open by Mark Allen in a 5-0 whitewash. He did, however, defeat then-champion John Higgins 5-1 en route. Ronnie O’Sullivan has already tipped him as a future world champ; perhaps this year could see him blaze his way through the Welsh Open.

With a total prize pool of £366,000, this Open will certainly be a good opportunity for snooker’s elite to pad their wallets that little bit more, heading in to the tail end of the snooker season. It’s unknown at present what the prize for a maximum is, though, so we’ll have to wait and see whether Ronnie decides to demonstrate any further exhibitionism this time round.

Welsh Open Snooker, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff, Mon 13-Sun 19 Feb. Tickets: £13-£34. Info: 029 2022 4488 / www.motorpointarenacardiff.co.uk

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