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Welsh Open preview: John Higgins could roll back the years

The fourth and final Home Nations Series event of the season takes the players to Venue Cymru in Llandudno, where Robert Milkins will have ambitions of defending his Welsh Open crown.

The Welsh Open has thrown up a few shock results in recent years with Milkins taking last season’s title at the expense of Shaun Murphy and following in the footsteps of Joe Perry in 2022 and Jordan Brown in 2021.

Judd Trump won the first two Home Nations Series tournaments at the English Open and Northern Ireland Open while Gary Wilson added the third in Scotland, where he had also come out on top in 2022.

Milkins, being the defending champion, is top seed but Trump and Ronnie O'Sullivan are notable absentees.

Trump has opted for a break after winning the recent German Masters while the Rocket wants to prioritise his health and wellbeing.

However, there are plenty of challengers to Milkins’ supremacy with leading lights Luca Brecel, Mark Selby, John Higgins, Kyren Wilson, Mark Williams and Murphy all hoping to make their presence felt.

Wizard of Wishaw can do damage with decent draw

The withdrawal of Trump has enhanced the title prospects of Higgins, who may fancy his chances in the second quarter.

There are some tough opponents also housed in that section of the draw such as Allen, Ding Junhui  and Si Jiahui but Higgins, who has generally performed consistently this season, has a decent early draw to work with.

The Wizard of Wishaw meets Mohamed Ibrahim in his held-over qualifier, which should be as straightforward as they come, before a first-round meeting with Tian Pengfei.

If successfully coming through that then David Lilley or Ryan Day await in round two with Matthew Selt his toughest potential last-16 opponent.

That means a quarter-final berth should be Higgins’ for the taking and that makes 9/4 to look a big price for him to win the second quarter.

The Scot is a five-time winner of the Welsh Open, as well as a two-time runner-up, so knows how to get over the line in this tournament and he is 13/2 to emerge with the trophy again. 

Hawk has his eye on another deep run

Barry Hawkins has had a strong start to the season, having won the European Masters and made the semi-final of both the Northern Ireland Open and the Champion of Champions.

Selby is likely to attract plenty of support in the bottom half of the draw following the withdrawal of O’Sullivan, but the early passage of the Hawk may be slightly kinder.

Hawkins faces a tricky held-over qualifier with He Guoqiang but he is expected to put his experience to good use before outclassing Xiao Guodong in round one.

With second seed Brecel still suffering somewhat of a hangover following on from last season’s World Championship success, the Hawk is the form player in the fourth quarter and could be overpriced at 11/2 to come through that section.

The Kent cueman was runner-up at the Welsh Open in 2018 and there is nothing stopping him from going one better this time around at odds of 20/1.

Kendrick can delay the inevitable 

Ding is unlikely to slip-up in his held-over qualifier with Jenson Kendrick with the oddsmakers predicting an easy 4-0 win for the Chinese cueman.

However, these two met in the Scottish Open in December and Kendrick performed with real credit despite losing 4-1, getting his frame on the board with a composed break of 70.

Kendrick is likely to lose again but he looks good value at 4/6 to win at least one frame as he is improving all the time.

The Liverpool lad should have gained plenty of confidence from beating the experienced Anthony Hamilton 5-3 in World Open qualifying last month and he can delay the inevitable.

Oliver Brown can also put up some resistance in his held-over qualifier with Jack Lisowski, who has lost four his last five matches and is struggling for confidence.

While Brown may struggle to deliver the upset, his recent exploits make 11/8 look like a big price for him winning at least two frames.

Brown defeated Mark Joyce 5-4 in World Open qualification last month while he also pushed Ryan Day close in a 5-3 loss in the recent German Masters, suggesting he can keep close tabs on an out-of-sorts Lisowski.

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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