The last event of the Home Nations Series took place at a venue called Celtic Manor Resort in Wales. Pause for a little bit of geography. Wales is a tiny nation (20,779km² according to Wikipedia) which has a population of approximately 3 million people. And they have their own language, the Welsh language, although only a small part of the population speaks Welsh. Another symbol of Wales is the red dragon that is on the Welsh flag for historical reasons (I will not go through the details here). So, this week's Welsh Open defines who are the top 16 players on the 1-year list that will play in next week's Cazoo Players Championship. The only absence among the top players in this year's Welsh Open was Niel Robertson, who decided to withdraw for personal reasons.
And now comes a pleasant surprise. The first finalist is the Northern Irishman Jordan Brown, who has secured his place in the Players Championship by beating Stephen Maguire 6-1 in the semi-finals. That was his first semi-final and the most important win of his career. To get himself into the final, Brown had sensational victories against Luo Honghao (4-0), Sam Craigie (4-3), Alexander Ursenbacher (4-3), Mark King (4-3) and none other than Mark Selby in the quarter-finals. The game was decided on the final black. Selby was 3-1 down and still managed to take the match to a deciding frame, when he missed the final black (frame and match ball). Brown made four half-centuries and one century break to beat Selby 5-4.
Jordan Brown brought his "A" game to the match against Stephen Maguire. He played with authority and made big, decisive breaks to comprehensively outplay the Scottish player. Brown played like the best players on tour, displaying very good stats before the mid-session interval: 100% long pot success and 98% pot success. Maguire leveled the match early on (1-1), and that was all. Jordan Brown made breaks of 135, 52, 56, 113, and 59, which helped him get to the first ranking final of his career. Brown did well in the German Masters, too, losing to Barry Hawkins (5-1) in the quarter-finals. As I have written in previous posts, I like seeing new faces getting to the final stages of a tournament. It adds so much to the game and it also tells that even the underdogs can play to the high standard that we see in today's modern game.
The second finalist is the reigning world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan. He managed to get himself into the final of yet another Home Nations Series event. His performance has improved in comparison to the tournaments he played last year. No fooling around this time. He seemed to be more focused and determined to win (the match against Jimmy White was the only exception). He whitewashed Robbie Williams, Jimmy White and Martin Gould in the first three rounds and then dropped a single frame in round four against China's Zhou Yuelong. There was no quarter-final match for the world champion as his opponent, Ali Carter, withdrew from the tournament due to illness. It is a pity, considering the fact that Carter beat John Higgins and Mark Allen in rounds 3 and 4, respectively.
O'Sullivan played the semi-final match against Mark Williams in another clash between the class of 92. These guys will not go away anytime soon. The Rocket won the match quite comfortably 6-1, dispatching the Welshman in his home turf. The problem was that Mark Williams was not up for the task; his pot success was below 80% at the end of the match. Williams won the first frame with a break of 73 but the match ended with the same scoreline as the other semi-final. O'Sullivan made breaks of 102, 77 and 54, won the next couple of scrappy frames and finished the match off with a break of 69.
O'Sullivan will play the third final of a Home Nation Series event this season having dropped only two frames. He lost in the final of the Northern Ireland open to Judd Trump (9-7) and lost in the final of the Scottish Open (9-3) against Mark Selby. This time, however, I don't think he's going to lose in a final for the third time in a row. Not only because he is a massive favorite, but because he has been very focused and playing well during the entire week. His opponent, Jordan Brown, will play the match of his life with nothing to lose. If Brown succeeds in replicating his performance against Maguire, he is going to cause a lot of trouble for the Rocket. If he loses, O'Sullivan will win his 38th ranking title. Whatever happens, Brown is going to play again alongside the top players at the Players Championship, and that is quite an achievement.