The last Scottish Open before a year being re-branded into the Players Championship, was in 2003 where Edinburgh hosted for the first time – a young promising player called Mark Selby made his ranking event final bow losing in an all outside top 16 affair to David Gray.
In 2016, it returned as a full-ranking event in Glasgow, being held as part of a new Home Nations Series where the trophy won was named after the seven-times World champion and three-time winner of this title, Stephen Hendry.
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Luca Brecel landed his second ranking title beating John Higgins in the final 9-5. It was however not in front of Higgins’ home crowd as last years event took place in Llandudno, Wales, following Glasgow’s Emirates Arena pulling out at the last minute over sponsorship disputes.
Brecel comes into his defence with another ranking win to his name, at the early season Championship league. As with the old Luca, his form runs very hot and cold with last 64 and opening round exits at the British Open and European Masters followed by three last 16’s in the Northern Ireland Open, Champion of Champions (opening match defeat) and last weeks U.K. Championship in York. He was particularly tepid at the Barbican losing to Tom Ford. You would expect the Belgian Bullet to give this a good go.
He has far from an easy opener against the underrated Fraser Patrick (in his home event) which will lead him to a last 64 bout with Sam Craigie.
Last week, Craigie finally showed what he was made of in York, after being a huge underachiever in his career so far where it could be said he hasn’t been as dedicated as he should be. He swept through U.K. qualifying with double centuries in both wins then took out the then reigning U.K. champion, Zhao Xintong 6-2 closing with a century clearance. The British Open champion from early in the season Ryan Day was no match the round after, with Craigie slamming in three centuries in a 6-4 victory.
Craigie looked in cruise control in the quarter-final against Mark Allen, making it 4-2 with a ninth tournament ton however the tide turned in the Pistol’s favour, showing all his experience and guile under pressure to come out the 6-4 victor. That form obviously stacks up supremely well with Allen going on to win the tournament on Sunday night. Craigie is someone who is highly critical of himself and has high expectations so will undoubtedly have been gutted to have lost however in the cold light of day, will be massively encouraged by his display and most importantly his consistency as that usually goes awry.
His warm up to this event was in German Masters Qualifying where I was particularly interested if he could keep up his York momentum against Stephen Maguire, and he did, blowing away Mags with breaks of 129, 97, 70 and 52 in a resounding 5-2 win. Sam then defeated Jamie Clarke by the same scoreline again scoring heavy with four breaks of 50+ to book his trip to Berlin in February.
I’m in little doubt Craigie is in the form of his life at present, especially in the scoring department and even getting switched to best-of-7, a format Geordie lad Craigie has struggled in previously (best run a last 16 in 2017 Northern Ireland Open) has to be on anyone’s list as a potential outsider winner in Scotland. He’s on a crest of a wave and nobody will enjoy playing him in this mood.
Another player who’s firmly on the upgrade currently is Wales’ Michael White. The 31-year-old from Neath has two ranking titles to his name but a while ago; 2015 Indian Open and 2017 Paul Hunter Classic.
A drastic drop in rankings from the top 16 in 2016 to off tour in 2020, no one in their right mind would have envisaged this fall from grace. White had previously mentioned he suffered from depression and had a problem with alcohol. One thing White has always had in abundance was natural talent and it was only a matter of time until he returned to the big time providing he did all the hard work off the table and got the confidence back on it.
He struggled a little with being on the amateur scene you could say as he lost to many players at Q School and Q Tour that on paper he should never lose to but it’s dog eat dog in that world and White perhaps didn’t enjoy being the one they all wanted to beat.
It came to no surprise then that he got his tour card back for his performances as a tour top-up last season. Much more to his liking amongst the worlds best. It culminated in a return to the Crucible in April, becoming only the second amateur (some would say in name only!) to qualify for the Sheffield extravaganza.
The only Home Nations event White has failed to make the quarters in, is this event in Scotland though he did make the last 16 in 2017. Just like he made the last 16 in Belfast this season last month beating Ding Junhui and Barry Hawkins on the way until he was halted 4-2 by Selby.
One of White’s biggest attributes is his scoring power and that came to precedence in German Masters Qualifying on Monday beating fellow countryman Ryan Day 5-3 with a high break of 132, his eighth century of the season so far. He couldn’t follow that up a day later, losing to an in form, Tian Pengfei.
I’m convinced the only way is up for White now and that he could well win another ranking title in the near future, he’s that good. I don’t think he’s miles off the form that took him to the ranking titles in 2015 and 2017 in all honesty.
White is likely to start with Barry Hawkins providing the Hawk comes through agaijst Andrew Pagett. He’s beaten Hawkins in the last two meetings, both in best-of-7.
Ronnie O’Sullivan takes up most of the market in the quarter four White is comed in but I feel he is one to firmly take on in these types of events and furthermore, White has no one to fear with his game is such decent nick.
White could thrust himself back in the big time with his third ranking title here and I imagine he would be a popular winner too.
Lastly, a 150/1 shot this time and another from Wales, this time a man with mountains of experience in Carmarthen’s evergreen Matthew Stevens. It’s mad to call Stevens a veteran, as the 45-year-old has barely aged since becoming professional in 1994. Ok, there’s an odd wrinkle here and there!
Stevens has had a terrific career where he’s been very unfortunate not to lift more than two triple crowns. Way back in the 2000 Masters he beat Ken Doherty in the match best remembered for Ken’s missed final black on the 147 for an £80,000 sports car. Stevens has also had success in the U.K. Championship, becoming champion in 2003 beating Hendry in the final after losing in back-to-back finals in 1998 and 1999. Incredibly, the U.K. final win is Stevens’ only ranking final success. He was runner-up at the Worlds too, back in 2000 (having led 13-7) to Mark Williams and five years later to qualifier Shaun Murphy.
His last ranking final was nearly 10 years ago at the World Open in 2013 losing to new U.K. champion, Mark Allen. To have stayed on tour for close to 30 years is testament to how good Stevens is still and he’s had a bit of a renaissance in the last three or four seasons without ‘threatening the judge’.
He‘ll probably never get back to his prime days in the late 90s/early 2000s but in 2018 he made a ranking semi-final in China and a year later the quarters at his beloved U.K. Championship once again. I wonder if he’s at the very least back in the form currently to what he was three or four years ago.
Last season he made the last 16 in his home event, the Welsh Open, and in the Turkish Masters beat his friend, Mark Williams for the first time in seven years. Stevens then concluded the season qualifying for the Worlds beating Craigie and Ali Carter for a spot at the Crucible before falling short against Jack Lisowski 10-8.
This season, Stevens had a decent run at the British Open, losing in the last 16 to Lyu Haotian and qualified from a solid section in the U.K. Championship beating Fan Zhengyi (who had just made the Champion of Champions semi-final) and the very talented Wu Yize 6-5 in the final round proving he’s up to any of these up and coming thorns from China. Stevens’ scoring was extremely impressive too with 15x 50+ breaks in his three wins including two centuries. Ronnie O’Sullivan was a bit too hot to handle for Matthew at York but didn’t disgrace himself in a 6-2 defeat.
Stevens heads to Edinburgh with his game in good health and is due to face Kyren Wilson in his last 64 opener. Though Wilson, bar his European Masters win in late summer, has been fairly quiet with just a last 16 at York to show since where he lost to eventual champion Allen. It’s a wide open quarter for me, also containing Michael White where probably 13 of the 16 hold respectful chances of making the semi-final and it does include Stevens.
There’s been surprise ranking winners galore in the last 18 months. From Jordan Brown to Fan Zhengyi to Rob Milkins to Joe Perry. The last two mentioned have been around a similar time to Stevens. 46-year-old Milkins won his first ranking title in Gibraltar this year after being on tour since 1995 so only a year after Stevens emerged. Perry is two years off 50 and has been an ever present on tour since 1992. He won the Welsh Open in early March, in what he would call a first proper ranking title. Both guys proving age is but a number.
Stevens still has title aspirations for me, and should take plenty of heart from his own form plus Perry and Milkins’ recent heroics – this sort of event could be right up his street.
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