Quarter-Finals in Cardiff brought even more surprises to a tournament that’s already been full of them!
The biggest one probably being the defeat that Joe O’Connor, a player in his first-ever year on the tour, inflicted on John Higgins. Joe had previously beaten Kyren Wilson and Ding Junhui to get to the QF stage but hadn’t played on the main table yet. No problem!
Here are the reports on Worldsnooker:
World number 103 Joe O’Connor produced a giant killing win over defending champion John Higgins, coming through 5-3 in their quarter-final clash at the ManBetX Welsh Open in Cardiff.
The 23-year-old from Leicester is competing in his rookie season on the World Snooker Tour, having earned professional status by winning the EBSA Playoff last year. He also won the prestigious English Amateur Championship last term.
O’Connor hadn’t made it beyond the last 32 of any ranking event coming into this week. However, he has shown his big match metal over the last few days. The youngster has ousted German Masters champion Kyren Wilson, 13-time ranking event winner Ding Junhui and four-time World Champion John Higgins.
Higgins, who has won the Welsh Open a record breaking five times, will leave the Welsh capital disappointed after the shock defeat. However, he can take solace from the fact that he is now mathematically assured of a spot at the upcoming Player’s Championship, reserved for the top 16 players on this season’s money list.
This afternoon it was O’Connor who made a dream start. He composed an assured break of 73 to take the opener, before claiming the second frame to move into a 2-0 lead. Higgins hit back and contributions of 84 and 106 saw him force parity at the mid-session interval.
You would have been forgiven for thinking that the tide had turned. However, O’Connor continued to edge ahead in a match which he never trailed in. They traded frames until the Leicester potter found himself 4-3 ahead. From there O’Connor remarkably produced the highest break of his professional career in his most important frame so far. A contribution of 131 to secure a phenomenal 5-3 victory.
“I’m over the moon. This past week has been a bit of a dream. Beating Kyren Wilson and Ding and now Higgins. I’m speechless and don’t really know what to say,” said O’Connor. “Beating these players isn’t really something I went into the matches thinking I would do. I knew I was capable of doing it, but to do it on the big stage is completely different.
“All of the Leicester players have helped me, but especially Tom Ford. He has taken me under his wing. Tom has been a massive help. We practice together very often and he is the man to go to when I have a question.”
O’Connor’s opponent in the semi-finals will be 2015 Crucible king Stuart Bingham. The five-time ranking event winner was impressive during a 5-2 defeat of young Chinese star Zhao Xintong this afternoon.
Bingham, who won this event in 2017 by defeating Judd Trump in a classic final, looked to be in red hot form this afternoon. He fired in breaks of 134, 99, 59 and 67 on his way to a 4-2 advantage.
There was then a dramatic seventh frame, which came down to the colours. Eventually Bingham deposited a superb long range brown which allowed him to clear up and seal the frame and match.
Australia’s Neil Robertson battled back from 4-2 down to defeat Norwegian Kurt Maflin 5-4 and reach the semi-finals of the ManBetX Welsh Open in Cardiff.
Robertson, who lifted the title at the 2007 Welsh Open, has had an eventful week in Cardiff having already made a 147 in his opening round encounter with Jordan Brown. Following victory this evening, the 2010 World Champion remains in the hunt for a 15th career ranking title.
It was a gut-wrenching loss for Maflin, who had already enjoyed success at the Motorpoint Arena prior to this week. The world number 49 also appeared in the quarter-finals at the Cardiff venue back in 2017. He will pocket £10,000 for his run to the last eight this time around.
Maflin charged out of the blocks this evening with breaks of 63, 104 and 74 to move into a 3-0 advantage. Robertson kept himself in touch before the interval with contribution of 91 to make it 3-1.
When the pair returned, 37-year-old Robertson claimed a tight fifth frame to draw within one, before Maflin responded in turn to regain his two-frame advantage at 4-2. Breaks of 69 and a stunning 136 saw the Australian force a decider, where high drama ensued.
With a 10-0 advantage, Maflin inadvertently clipped the black into the bottom right pocket after potting a long range red, in a piece of unforeseeable poor fortune. Robertson ruthlessly pounced on that piece of bad luck to compile a break of 67, which sealed frame and match.
Robertson said: “I thought overall it was a terrific match. Both of us scored really heavily and I am gutted for Kurt at the end there. What a way to lose. He potted a really good long red and I don’t know how he knocked the black in.
“It was about concentration and being brutal in the moment, because when I came to the table I was thinking what a way for him to lose if I win the frame from here. On a personal level I love the guy. We spend Christmas together in Norway. I just had to tell my head to shut up and pot the balls.”
Iran’s Hossein Vafaei will face Robertson in the last four after demolishing Scotland’s Scott Donaldson 5-1.
It will be Vafaei’s second appearance in a ranking event semi-final, following his trip to the last four at the 2017 China Open where he defeated Judd Trump in the quarters. This evening Vafaei clinically took advantage of his opportunities.
After losing the first frame, he won five on the bounce with breaks 92, 76, 75, 62 and 54. Robertson and Vafaei will do battle tomorrow evening at 7pm, with Stuart Bingham and Joe O’Connor contesting the other semi-final at 1pm.
Kurt Maflin was really unlucky to pocket the black when leading by 10-0 in the decider; here is the decider:
Ronnie was in the studio all day. He was full of praise for Joe O’Connor after his win over John Higgins, comparing him to Graeme Dott. Not sure if Joe will like the comparison but it was a genuine compliment. People only too easily forget how good a player Graeme Dott was. You don’t “fluke” three World Championship finals, including one victorious one.
Ronnie had also called correctly the outcome of the Neil Robertson v Kurt Maflin match. About Kurt – who was leading 3-1 at that moment – he said that he’s one of those players who can outplay you and still lose. Sadly that’s very true about Kurt, who, BTW, he likes as a person. About Neil Robertson he stressed how dedicated and professional he is in all aspects of the sport and his career.