The final day of Welsh Open qualifying takes place in Barnsley on Saturday when another 15 players will book their spot in the main draw in Llandudno next month if they can make it to four frames before their opponent.
We’ve seen some excellent snooker so far in this qualifying competition and it would seem daft to expect anything different over the course of another four sessions of play on Saturday where 30 more players go at it for a spot in Wales.
All four matches in the morning session involve a Chinese player and the pick of the matches is without a doubt the one between the former champion Joe Perry and the previous winner of the European Masters in Fan Zhengyi. Both will feel that is a horror draw, especially when you consider that the other Chinese players are all ranked outside the top 80 in the world and only one of the non-Chinese contingent are inside the top 50. The other player in the top 50 is Jak Jones and he goes up against Liu Hongyu for a spot in his home tournament. Rory Thor will take on Ma Hailong and Andrew Higginson, a finalist in this event a number of years ago, takes on Xing Zihao.
Early Afternoon Session
We continue with four more matches in the early afternoon session where the former Scottish Open finalist Joe O’Connor will be the highest ranked player on show. He meets another Chinese player, this time in the form of Xu Si, while elsewhere in the arena we have Dominic Dale looking to qualify for his home event when he takes on fellow veteran of the game Jimmy White. Wu Yize will expect to make it through to Llandudno after a decent season and he has been helped by a change of opponent with Sydney Wilson replacing Martin Gould in the draw. The other match sees Ishpreet Singh Chadha on show for the first time since his controversial win over Stuart Bingham in qualifying for the World Open. Iulian Boiko has a late entry into the tournament to be his opponent.
Late Afternoon Session
We have four more matches in the later part of the afternoon where Tom Ford is very much the highest ranked player on show. He will go up against Ben Woollaston, whose health issues have come to the fore more of late. This will be a big session for Jamie Clarke as he looks to qualify for his home tournament when he meets James Cahill. David Lilley goes up against Victor Sarkis in one of the other matches and then Martin O’Donnell will look to build on a good first half of the campaign when he takes on Ryan Thomerson.
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That leaves us with three matches for the evening session as one of the wildcard matches has been held over to the main venue. Dave Gilbert is firmly the highest ranked player on show and he will look to qualify at the expense of the former world champion Ken Doherty while Dylan Emery is another who will be looking to make it through to his home tournament. Fergal O’Brien stands in his way in what we now know will be his final Welsh Open. The other match sees Mark Joyce going up against Zak Surety for a place in the main draw.
Three bets jump out at me on Saturday with a couple of them coming along in the morning session where the birthday boy Fan Zhengyi probably should be a bit more of a favourite to beat Joe Perry than he is. I mentioned Perry being in the downturn of his career earlier in the week when I took him on against Martin O’Donnell in the World Open qualifying, only for O’Donnell to miss match ball in the deciding frame but there was nothing really about Perry that convinced me in the match. Fan has been qualifying for tournaments regularly since the Wuhan Open. Perhaps that was a turning point in his season missing out in a home tournament because since then he has reached every event with the exception of the Scottish Open where he went down on the final black to Sanderson Lam who played well as it goes. Like all Chinese players, Fan can get in from distance and score when he is in and if he gets the same chances O’Donnell got earlier in the week I expect him to make enough of them to come through here.
In the same session Liu Hongyu looks to have a better chance to beat a bang out of form Jak Jones than the odds would suggest. Jones beat Ryan Thomerson earlier in the week to make it into the World Open but that was his first win since the International Championship, where to be fair to him he took care of Si Jiahui on home soil. Hongyu is enjoying a much more consistent season with a pair of wins over Shaun Muprhy as well as victories over Joe O’Connor, Chris Wakelin, Mark Williams and Ding Junhui in making the semi-final in the English Open. Liu qualified for Germany next week with an emphatic 5-0 win over Dominic Dale and then made the World Open at the expense of Jamie Clarke earlier in the week, dropping just one frame on that occasion. I think he’s playing well enough to add a third straight Welsh victim to his resume here.
Moving into the later part of the afternoon I will take one Welsh player to qualify and that is Jamie Clarke, who would have been disappointed to lose to Liu in World Open qualifying earlier in the week but who I think can make up for that when he meets a James Cahill who has lost his last five matches and only won five matches all season since the Championship League, with one of those coming against the women’s world champion Baipat Siripaporn in her first event on tour, and another against the amateur Duane Jones. In fact, Xing Zihao at 88 is the highest ranked player he has beaten this season. Prior to losing in World Open qualifying earlier in the week, Clarke had qualified for every tournament since the English Open where Ali Carter dumped him out before the main draw. He also had a win over Kyren Wilson at the final stages of the UK Championship having beaten Jordan Brown and Dave Gilbert to get there. He feels in much better touch than Cahill and with the motivation of reaching a home tournament I think Clarke is worthy of support here.
Back F.Zhengyi to beat J.Perry for a 3/10 stake at 1.91 with William Hill
Back J.Clarke to beat J.Cahill for a 3/10 stake at 1.91 with William Hill
Back them here:
Back L.Hongyu to beat J.Jones for a 3/10 stake at 2.00 with Boylesports
Back him here: