THE SEMI-FINALS of the BetVictor Welsh Open feature two all-time greats, a player through to his first major semi-final and a teenager beginning to realise his potential.
Mark Williams and John Higgins are the men with the experience and the titles but Ben Woollaston and Luca Brecel will be hungry to advance to Sunday’s final now that they’ve had a taste of the big time.
Higgins first won the Welsh title 15 years ago in Cardiff and was successful in Newport in 2010 and again in 2011.
He wasn’t at his very best against Stephen Maguire but didn’t have to be. Overall, he’s been solid all week with enough in reserve to find something special when it matters. He also has an enviable record at this stage of major tournaments.
This makes him favourite to beat Brecel but the 19 year-old Belgian does not lack for confidence and, once he’d got over early nerves against Ricky Walden, produced some good snooker in spells.
There were also scrappy exchanges but the way a player retains their poise when things go difficult can be just as significant as frames won in one visit. Mind-set is crucial and Brecel’s was good. He trailed 3-0 but as Walden weakened, he grew stronger.
Who was the last teenager to reach a ranking event semi-final? It used to be a regular occurrence but has become a rarity of late. Judd Trump did so at 19 at the 2008 Grand Prix. I can’t think of any others since, though I dare say someone else might.
Brecel has an uphill battle to beat Higgins but it is by no means impossible. It’s good to see Higgins back at the business end of a ranking tournament but he isn’t playing the formidable snooker of his peak – though it’s not to say he won’t up his game further over the weekend.
Williams was playing vintage stuff to beat Marco Fu 5-1. He was superb. This was the sort of snooker that got him to the top and kept him there for so long.
The business over Crucible qualification seems to have focused his mind and he becomes the first home semi-finalist at the Welsh Open for 11 years.
Woollaston, one of the circuit’s loyal foot-soldiers, has quietly got some good results throughout the tournament, beating Gary Wilson 5-2 in their non-televised quarter-final.
The Leicester man should not be underestimated against Williams but this will obviously be a huge occasion for him, arguably the biggest match of his career.
Any combination of finalists would provide an interesting climax to the event. Higgins and Williams are looking to recapture former glories, Woollaston wants to make the transition from supporting actor to leading man and Brecel wants to break through in style a week before he turns 20.
It’s been a very busy week in Cardiff but this is where it gets serious and this is where the players need to really produce the goods.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.