Welsh snooker ace Matthew Stevens remains positive about the second half of the season despite a poor start to the campaign.
The former UK and Masters champion has won just five matches in the six main ranking events so far this season and slipped to 21st in the world. If he’s not ranked among the top 16 after April’s China Open he’ll have to win three matches to qualify for the final stages of the World Championship, following a change in format to the qualifying structure of the sport’s blue riband event.
But Carmarthen’s 37-year-old Stevens, who was runner-up at the Crucible in 2000 and 2005, is confident of regaining form. He said: “I have struggled in the first half of the season but it’s all to play for now in the second half. I’m putting the work in and hitting the ball well so we’ll see how it goes.
“I’ve just got to play and try to enjoy it and not worry about the rankings. What will be will be. There’s no point complaining about the format of events because if you’re good enough you’ll make it.”
Stevens will be among 128 players battling for the title at the BetVictor Welsh Open, which runs from February 16 to 22 and returns to the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff after ten years in Newport. He faces a tough opening match on the first day of the tournament against Leeds teenager Oliver Lines, who has beaten the likes of Mark Selby and Mark Williams during his debut pro season and reached the final of an Asian Tour event.
“He’s an up and coming prospect,” said Stevens. “He has really broken through this season and taken some big scalps. To get to a final is a great achievement in his first year because a lot of players go through their whole careers without doing that. It’s only best of seven frames so it’s going to be a tough match to win for me.
“It will be great to go back to Cardiff. We always had good crowds in Newport and I hope they will be even better at the new venue.”
Ronnie O’Sullivan will be defending the title while Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby, Shaun Murphy, John Higgins and Jimmy White will be among the other top stars in action. With 11 tables in the arena it’s a fantastic chance to see a host of players on the same day.