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Welsh Open final preview: Maximum man Wilson looking to join elite club

Gary Wilson will head into Sunday's Welsh Open final buzzing off the back of 147 in his semi-final success against John Higgins and knowing he's a hot-favourite to overcome Martin O'Donnell.

The Welsh Open has produced a number of shocks in recent years - with Jordan Brown, Joe Perry and Robert Milkins lifting the crown in the last three editions - and it's going to be another relatively unlikely trophy-lift on Sunday evening at Venue Cymru in Llandudno.

Wilson, the world's No.16 ranked player, will square off against world number 76 Martin O'Donnell - playing in his maiden ranking final - for the right to hoist the Ray Reardon Trophy.

With experience and ranking in his favour, Wilson starts Sunday's best-of-17 tussle as a strong 1/3 favourite to win, with O'Donnell trading at 12/5 to complete a stunning week in Wales with the silver lining.

Wilson forced to sweat by Higgins 

Wilson finds himself just one win away from a second ranking title in as many months, having beaten Class of '92 star Higgins 6-4 in a fantastic semi-final on Saturday evening.

The Wallsend cueman got off to a terrific start, notching 104 after 13 reds and 13 blacks before he missed the missed the penultimate red in a possible maximum break.

Any lingering disappointment didn't show, as Wilson duly stepped back to the table in frame two and went ahead and forged a 147 break, the fifth of his career.

A break of 82 helped him to a 3-0 lead over the Scot, before Wilson scrapped out the fourth frame to enjoy a perfect scoreline at the interval, with Higgins having scored a meagre 10 points via his own cue and just 14 in all across that opening quartet.

Higgins got on the board with a 93 of his own to trail 1-4, but Wilson was back on it again with 89 to go within one of victory. Then it got twitchy. 

Wilson was on a break of 55 in the sixth frame when a black off the spot went awry and Higgins, as he does, mopped up with 69 to claim the frame. 

It was a repeat show in the next when Wilson lost position amongst the balls and attempted to swerve around a red keep his break going - perhaps pushing the boat out - allowing the four-time world champion to steal another frame with a counter attack. 

When the Scot hit 78 for get within a frame it was 'game-on', but Wilson got his chance and compiled a cool 73 in the next after knocking in a superb red to the middle pocket to end a safety exchange.

The 38-year-old acknowledged he'd been through the mill as he playfully wiped his brow having put the frame beyond doubt. 

Wilson's sights set on Home Nations treble

Now Wilson is closing in on that second ranking title of the season and a chance to join an elite group of four players to have triumphed in three or more Home Nations events.

Since the series was established in 2016, only top stars Judd Trump (6), Mark Selby (4), Neil Robertson (3) and Mark Allen (3) have managed to join that club.

Having successfully defended his Scottish Open crown in Glasgow in December, Wilson can join them with a win in Wales. 

He's priced at 4/5 to do it in some style by overcoming a 2.5 frame handicap in the first-to-nine final, with Wilson priced at 6/1 for a 9-5 win.

Following on from Wilson's heroics on Saturday evening in Llandudno it is 18/1 for either player to make a 147 in the final.

O'Donnell fights fire with fire in Slessor success

Dubbed the Minister of Defence, O'Donnell has leaned heavily on scoring power to get himself in a maiden ranking final.

He had never reached a semi-final of a ranking event outside of the Shoot Out before wins over Chris Wakelin, Anthony Hamilton and Marco Fu set him up for a clash with world champion Luca Brecel in the last-eight on Friday.

He won that 5-3 with breaks of 88, 61, 130, and 54 to shoot down the Belgian Bullet, Brecel having made three 70-plus contributions of his own to lead 3-2.

O'Donnell was forecast to try and battle his way past Elliott Slessor in the last-four but, again, it was scoring that did the damage with runs of 78, 61, 88 and ice-cool 126 in the decider. 

Slessor played his part, with four half-centuries of his own, as eight of their 11 frames included a break of 50 or more in a quality clash.

O'Donnell looking for ultimate comeback

Stepping out in a Sunday final is some turnaround for O'Donnell, who was relegated from the Tour in 2022 and spent a season on the amateur scene.

The Bedfordshire-based cueman regained his card via Q Tour in 2023 and is now playing the best snooker of a career which started back in 2012.

He knows the importance of this clash. Victory would catapult him into the top 16 of the one-year ranking list and earn him a place at next week's lucrative Players Championship in Telford, as well banking the £80,000 top prize in Wales and his first ranking success. 

He may have to work harder for his openings, with Slessor having suggested his safety play was "embarrassing" in their semi-final.

Given that Wilson showed some signs of nerves in closing out his win over Higgins, his Sunday opponent can take some encouragement on his hopes if he can stay with the dual Scottish Open champ into the heat of the battle. 

That and the fact the three most recent Welsh Open winners have all come out of the pack as dark horses will have the Minister Of Defence dreaming of a final, telling assault.

Over 14.5 frames in the Welsh Open final is priced at 5/6 and O'Donnell would likely take that starting out as he aims to get into Sunday evening with a chance. After his final frame success in the semis, he's 10/1 to win the final 9-8, while the underdog is 10/11 with a 2.5 frame match handicap set in his favour. 

This article was written by a partner sports writer via Spotlight Sports Group. All odds displayed on this page were correct at the time of writing and are subject to withdrawal or change at any time.

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