Robert Milkins held off Shaun Murphy for the biggest win of his career (Eurosport)
Robert Milkins held off Shaun Murphy for the biggest win of his career (Eurosport)

Snooker column: Nick Metcalfe on storied Welsh Open being highlight of the calendar

I don't know who writes the scripts for the Welsh Open, but I can't wait to see what they've got in store for this year.

The tournament has long been a much-loved one on the snooker calendar and somehow, it has always found a way to weave its stories deep into the sport's rich tapestry.

The highlights are plentiful. There were first ranking event successes for Ken Doherty, John Higgins and the late Paul Hunter in the 1990s. Ronnie O'Sullivan beat Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry 9-8 in successive finals in 2004 and 2005, while Mark Selby came back from 8-5 down to stun O'Sullivan 9-8 and pick up the trophy in 2008. O'Sullivan, ever the showman, made a maximum 147 break to seal victory over Ding Junhui in the 2014 final.

You get the picture. The Welsh has never been shy when it comes to serving up great theatre. But seriously, it's raised its game even higher in the Twenties, with the last three editions of the tournament being truly unforgettable.

First there was the 2021 event, when the world was still in the grip of the Covid pandemic. We would have been forgiven for thinking it might be a lower key week with no fans present at Celtic Manor. Instead we saw an upset triumph for the ages.

World No.81 Jordan Brown, a 750/1 shot before the event, did brilliantly just to reach the final, beating Selby and Stephen Maguire on the way. Surely the great O'Sullivan would prove to be one step too far in the final however? Not a bit of it, Brown was inspired throughout the match and held his nerve at the end for a famous 9-8 victory.

Brown, who was the lowest ranked player to win a ranking tournament since Dave Harold at the 1993 Asian Open, said: "I knew if I got overawed about Ronnie I wouldn't win so I focused on my own game. I've had some dark days but those make you stronger as a player and a person. Five years ago I told myself to give snooker a proper go and it is paying off now."

The 2022 event at Newport's International Convention Centre had a tough act to follow. But it threw up another fabulous story as world No.42 Joe Perry beat a number of top players to reach the final – Mark Allen, Kyren Wilson and Jack Lisowski among them – and then saw off Judd Trump 9-5 in the showpiece match to claim only his second ranking event success ever at the age of 47.

You would have to be pretty hard of heart not to have been moved by the sight of Perry celebrating victory with his parents that night. Perry's previous ranking event success had been at the 2015 Championship Grand Final in Thailand. This time, his family could toast success with him.

"I can’t believe it. This is the absolute highlight of my career by a country mile," Perry said. "My mum and dad have supported me since I was ten years old. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have been a snooker player. I’ve won a tournament before, but nobody was there. I know they are proud of me, but this is amazing. Whatever happens from here on in, I have this to remember."

Surely there couldn't be an encore at Venue Cymru in Llandudno last year after all that? You betcha there was. Robert Milkins had already delighted the snooker world when winning his first ranking event at the Gibraltar Open in 2022, but it was by a distance his finest hour in the sport when he beat Shaun Murphy 9-7 for Welsh glory 12 months ago.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house during the celebrations. One of the most popular players in the game, Milkins has had more than his fair share of adversity to deal with off the table. This was a day of pure happiness for the 46-year-old, who picked up a BetVictor bonus prize of £150,000 along with the £80,000 on offer for winning the tournament.

"It's unreal – that's a lot of money to me," a tearful Milkins said. "Just one week is life changing, it’s unreal. Gibraltar last year kicked it all off for me but this week is the biggest of my life on the table and I’ll probably never get another one like it."

The Welsh Open has always felt like an extra special week in the snooker year for me and I know many fans share those sentiments.

Never put it past the event to give us another storybook finish too. I know you'll all be watching. Enjoy the tournament.

Trump's aura gives him edge over rivals

Judd Trump is obviously an outstanding snooker player. He has the beating of anyone in the game, with formidable break-building skills allied with a host of incredible shots in his repertoire and increasingly steely temperament.

His tournament record this season deserves immense credit. He picked up three ranking event wins in a row in the autumn and made it four in this campaign with glory at the German Masters last weekend.

On top of all this, Trump has in his possession right now one of the most invaluable commodities in sport: an aura.

It's quite a difficult word to define all things told. The Oxford English Dictionary describes aura as, "a feeling or particular quality that is very easy to notice and seems to surround a person or place".

You just know it as a sports fan, don't you? And you can feel it with Trump right now. It's an intimidating factor for his opponents and it almost seems like it's worth a frame or two for the Bristol man in some matches. And frankly, that's a lot in a best of seven.

Trump has fully earned his aura with his consistent excellence and it will continue to serve him well in the weeks and months to come. There's every chance he can add even more silverware to his 2023/24 collection.

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