LUCA BRECEL has been talked up as a future champion for so long that it is worth remembering he is still only 19.
The Belgian became the youngest player to appear at the Crucible three years ago and was a UK Championship quarter-finalist at 17 in 2012.
Since then, he has gone a little off the radar but will face world champion Mark Selby in the last 16 of the BetVictor Welsh Open in Cardiff on Thursday.
Young players frequently suffer from a dual narrative going on around them. It starts with big predictions, usually way over the top, about all the tournaments they will win and then smoothly transitions into comments along the lines that they’re not as good as everyone said in the first place when the realities of life on the circuit set in.
So many young players have been named as ‘definite world champions of the future’ that you’d have to play the World Championship every week for it to happen.
And then the knives come out. Judd Trump had it when he was said to be ‘under-performing’ early in his career. Others players have too.
The fact is, nobody is guaranteed to win anything. It’s a difficult game and at the top level is played under the utmost pressure.
Brecel has been around for a few years now but is still finding his way. He has had a number of setbacks but it is far, far too early to write him off as a top player of the future.
The Selby match will be a proper test because Selby plays a formidable all round game. Brecel’s game, like those of most young players, is primarily based around attack. They will have to go in.
But when he plays well, he really looks impressive. He just needs to cut out the unforced errors that gift chances to opponents.
Brecel would be very good for snooker if he could climb the ranks. For all the interest in snooker in continental Europe it is still lacking a top 16 player.
The Welsh Open field was reduced from 32 to 16 on Wednesday and the two best Welsh players of the last 20 years are still in the hunt for quarter-final places. Matthew Stevens ended his Ronnie O’Sullivan hoodoo while Mark Williams came through what turned into a nervy encounter against Jamie Jones. The Welsh pair could clash cues in the last eight.
There are some lesser known players through as well, including Michael Georgiou, whose previous season on tour included membership of a long forgotten World Snooker PR initiative called ‘HotShots.’ He faces a bona fide hot-shot in the shape of four times world champion John Higgins in the last 16.
Gary Wilson, who won the world under 21 title just over a decade ago, is through to play Neil Robertson.
We’re down to two tables now so things are less busy. It’s still best of seven, which feels a little short at this stage of a ranking event, but this goes up to best of nine for the quarters.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.