Welsh Open snooker 2021: A unique symbol of greatness – Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump chase title
The Welsh Open enjoys a rich heritage, producing a formidable array of winners since Stephen Hendry lifted the inaugural tournament in 1992. John Higgins is the tournament's most prolific champion on five with Ronnie O'Sullivan bidding to equal his haul and Judd Trump eyeing his first. Ahead of its 30th edition, Desmond Kane explains why it is the jewel in the crown of the Home Nations Series.
Ronnie O'Sullivan celebrates winning the Welsh Open title.
“Be nice to get it on the CV,” commented Judd Trump, the sport’s undisputed number one, ahead of his impending Welsh Open campaign at Celtic Manor. In ticking off a box on your green baize bucket list, emerging victorious from The Valleys isn’t the worst spot of sightseeing. The view from the snooker summit in Wales is rarefied, as satisfying as Snowdon on a clear day.
Despite players competing at the debatable Newport Centre for 17 years on and off between 1992 and 2014, ploughing through some much-derided soulless surroundings that included a swimming pool, flumes and battle-hardened members of the public doing widths, the length and longevity of the Welsh Open remains remarkably buoyant after snooker’s past struggles to stay afloat.
If you judge a tournament by the company it keeps, the 29-year-old event holds a rich legacy in managing to stay the distance set against the game’s wider travails to find meaningful sponsorship. It has remained a constant in a rapidly evolving calendar, surviving economic downturn, while enjoying a true potting pedigree of its own.
After tobacco companies were banned from sports sponsorship beyond 2003, the Welsh Open remained regal without a title sponsor for six years between 2004 and 2009. Despite such turbulence, it remains the third-longest ranking event on the World Snooker Tour circuit behind the World and UK Championships.
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When you study the elongated and saturated televised coverage of snooker in the 2019/20 season, 42 tournaments, 17 ranking events and prize money of £14.43 million, it is easy to forgot that the circuit contained only six ranking events when John Higgins defeated Ali Carter 9-4 for a £35,000 top prize in the 2010 final.
The renaissance of snooker as a proper profession has enabled it to become the jewel in the crown of the Home Nations Series, broadcast extensively by Eurosport alongside the English, Northern Ireland and Scottish Opens since 2016, because of its unique and storied history.
The 30th winner of the Welsh Open will be Lord of the Manor this time.
Having being staged in Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena over the past six years, the Welsh Open enjoys the salubrious surroundings of the Celtic Manor Resort, host venue of golf’s 2010 Ryder Cup.
Despite being played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is perhaps a reminder in how far snooker has travelled over the past 11 years after Barry Hearn’s arrival as WST chairman gave the sport some much-needed impetus and ingenuity.
Seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry claimed the inaugural event in 1992 with a 9-3 success against local hero Darren Morgan in Newport and the Welsh Open roll of honour has progressed to become a who’s who in ultimate cue class.
Welsh Open champions tend to be blue-chip acts of the green baize with 10 of its 15 champions boasting 33 world titles between them. It is perhaps fitting that the Ray Reardon trophy, named in honour of Wales' six-times world champion from Tredegar, is awarded to the victor.
John Higgins is the most prolific champion with five victories followed by world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan (four) and Hendry (three). Steve Davis, Ken Doherty, three-times Masters champion Paul Hunter, Mark Williams and Neil Robertson have all claimed the trophy twice.
Defending champion Shaun Murphy, Mark Selby, Stuart Bingham, Ali Carter, Ding Junhui, Stephen Lee and Stephen Maguire are the others to emerge victorious in a cast list dripping with garlands.
John Higgins wins the Welsh Open (Credit WPBSA)
Image credit: Eurosport
Interestingly enough, the last Welsh winner of the tournament was way back in 1999 when Williams edged out Hendry 9-8 five months before he lost 18-11 to the Scotsman in the world final. In celebrating a country's sterling contribution to snooker, it is also timely that the Welsh Open will be held in the same week the double UK champion Doug Mountjoy and former world finalist from Glamorgan sadly died.
Out of the nine 147s made at the tournament, the snooker GOAT O’Sullivan compiled the first against James Wattana in 1999 and the most famous in 2014 when he finished off Ding with a delectable maximum in the final frame of a 9-3 victory in the final that barely seemed possible.
Rocket Ronnie also caused consternation on his sojourn to a fourth Welsh Open title in 2016.
Only days before Ding compiled a 147 in the quarter-finals against Robertson, O’Sullivan decided to declare on 146 in the first round against Barry Pinches by potting a pink off the final red when a maximum was inevitable.
It's like going into a Mercedes garage and when they say that you can have the car for £3,000, you reply, 'no way, that's too cheap. I'm not buying it for that.
As the penultimate event in the BetVictor European Series, Selby is chasing a £150,000 bonus as winner of the series with Trump – who lost 9-8 to Bingham in the 2017 final – only £12,500 ahead of him and a £70,000 first prize available before the series concludes at the Gibraltar Open (1-7 March).
These are happier times for Selby, who was once served a writ and a bankruptcy note by a former manager during a 5-3 defeat to Anthony Hamilton in the quarter-finals, a year after defeating O’Sullivan 9-8 in the 2008 final.
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