Day 3 in Cardiff saw 32 become 16 as round three of the Welsh Open 2016 was played and completed. It once again proved that all the ramble about best of 7 being just a lottery is nonsense: 12 of the top 16 are playing in round 4 today, and only Yu Delu is ranked lower than 32. Michael White, Luca Brecel and Ben Woollaston may not be in the top 16, but Luca and Ben are both ranking event finalists whilst Michael is ranking event winner. So?
Anyway, today promises to be an interesting day and here is Hector Nunns preview on inside-snooker:
It is always interesting to see how other players react in a week when Ronnie O’Sullivan is doing one of his ‘headline-grabbing’ routines. Most aren’t bothered. A few are bothered.
All of them get asked what they think about whatever it is that the Rocket has said or done to stir things up this time. Some are cute and sidestep the potential minefield. Others are just plain honest. Another, smaller group, cannot help but reveal frustration at the box office appeal and earning power of their tour colleague.
Is there some jealousy? Maybe – but only in certain, very limited quarters. And even then, you can understand it to a degree. Just look at what has happened this week.
From day one the agenda has been centred on O’Sullivan from the moment he allowed a personal “devil” to play with his head, rejecting the 147 attempt and blaming it an insufficient cash prize.
But as we approach day four and the last 16 of an important ranking tournament, where players are desperate to do well for many reasons, we see that fairly quietly a very attractive line-up has assembled itself.
There are good match-ups, fine potential quarter-final and semi-final clashes, big names, and opportunities to build a greater legacy all over the place.
Just look at who is playing for a place in the quarter-finals. You have Ding Junhui, struggling to keep his top-16 place and avoid what for him would be the ignominy of having to play three brutal qualifiers to reach the Crucible, taking on the in-form Luca Brecel.
The 20-year-old Belgian enjoyed a huge slice of luck against Shaun Murphy, but it goes for you when you’re on a roll, and Brecel comes to Cardiff straight from Berlin where he got to a first ranking final. It is not only a match to savour, but quite possibly a taste of finals to come.
Defending champion John Higgins against one of the home Welsh favourites Michael White is another cracking tie on paper. This was the event where Higgins ended his title drought 12 months ago, going on of course to win two more ranking titles in 2015.
In all three of those finals Higgins was a strong favourite, and good players as they are someone of the Scot’s calibre would privately take Ben Woollaston, Martin Gould and David Gilbert all day long for three ranking titles. That would though be to overlook other excellent displays in particular in Daqing where Higgins took out Mark Selby 9-4 and Shaun Murphy 6-0 en route to the showpiece.
White is of course a ranking-event winner, as now is Gould – who plays last year’s Cardiff runner-up Woollaston. O’Sullivan should beat Yu De Lu, and there will be huge support for another 40-year-old, Mark Williams, as he takes on world No1 Mark Selby.
Judd Trump, the final man into the last 16, will certainly have his eye on lifting the trophy ahead of his match against Joe Perry after some recent near misses. And Neil Robertson, Marco Fu, Mark Allen and Barry Hawkins are all sufficiently motivated and capable of adding to their title tally.
There has been a lot of talk about what is ‘good for the game’ this week. For any player left in, they are quite rightly thinking about themselves and what the title would mean. It is an individual sport, and that is how it should be. Holding the trophy on Sunday night would mean something different, special and unique to whoever had the honour.
Away from the strong individual motivations at stake, though, what would be the best result for the sport? As in Germany, there is just a feeling that a Brecel title sometime soon would signify an important milestone moment for where snooker needs to go next.
He is certainly not the favourite – and 15 others, not least next opponent Ding, would strongly disagree.
All the results and statistics are available on cuetracker.net . Thank you Ron Florax.