10 OCTOBER 2001
A total prize-fund of £250,000 at stake
Malta has once again been chosen to host one of the nine world ranking events making up this season's prestigious calendar of the World Snooker Association.
Snooker legends Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis are set to meet again when the 2001 European Open is staged in Malta from November 23 to December 1. Between them, the pair have won 60 world ranking tournaments - Hendry a record 32 and Davis 28. The tally includes 13 world titles - seven to Hendry and six to Davis.
When Davis dominated the green baize during the 1980s, it seemed inconceivable that someone could come along and break his records. But Hendry did just that in the 90s, compiling more than 500 century breaks and amassing around £7million in prize money to establish himself as the greatest player ever to pick up a cue.
How times have changed Davis, now 44, is in the twilight of his career and having slipped to 21 in the world rankings. He will have to come through one qualifying round to book a trip to Malta and his 42nd major meeting with Hendry, who currently leads 26-15 in career head-to-heads.
Hendry, 32, is now No 5 in the world and has not won a ranking title since the British Open in September 1999. However, the Scot can take heart from the fact that his only tournament victory last season came on the island of Malta in the Rothmans Grand Prix. Those who witnessed his 7-1 demolition of world No 1 Mark Wililams in the final will find it hard to believe that Hendry has gone more than two years without winning a ranking event. He compiled the eighth maximum break of his illustrious career on his way to whipping Williams in the final of that invitation event
With this year's event in Malta assuming ranking status, Hendry will need no added incentive to repeat last year '5 triumph at the Mediterranean Conference Center in Valletta.
"Winning means everything to me," he says. "Take away the winning and you take away a large part of the enjoyment for me. Victory in Malta last year satisfied me for a short period of time. Even though it was an invitation tournament, I still had to beat the best players in the world to win it.
"But obviously I want to be winning ranking tournaments again and if I were to go another two years without winning one then I would seriously have to consider my future."
Hendry, European Open champion in 1993 and 1994, could hardly face a tougher draw as he finds himself in the same quarter as top seed and current world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, not to mention Malta's top player Tony Drago.
Drago, currently ranked 29~~ in the world, will have his last-48 match held over until the first day of the final phase - November23. If he wins that, he will meet Scotland's Graeme Dott in the last 32.
O'Sullivan is seeded to meet Hong Kong's Marco Fu in his opening match and then Dave Harold - an opponent he has beaten in all eight previous meetings. John Higgins, winner of the first two tournaments of the 2001-2002 season - the Champions Cup and Regal Masters, is in the bottom half of the draw along with Williams.
Higgins, winner of the last European Open to be staged in Malta in 1997, could come up against 1991 world champion John Parrott in the last 32 while Williams has been drawn to face his Welsh Nations Cup team-mate Dominic Dale, providing Dale comes through his qualifier.
Qualifying for the European Open, which carries a total prize fund of £250,000 with £44,000 going to the winner, takes place at the end of October.
At the Press Conference to officially launch the event, Jim McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer of World Snooker, expressed his satisfaction at once again being able to stage a ranking event in Malta. He said: "Developing snooker in Europe is one of the goals set out in World Snooker '5 five-year business plan and part of our drive to provide more playing opportunities worldwide.
"We intend to establish a new European Tour, which, along with an Asia-Pacific Tour, will form a World Series. The European Open will then have a regular slot on the calendar of world ranking tournaments."
The Hon Jesmond Mugliett, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport, also attended the press conference. "Snooker is one of the most popular sports on the island, and important events like the European Open will definitely serve to further develop this game. Malta has always produced top-class players in the past and I hope that our strong traditions in this sport will continue in the future.
Joe Zammit, on behalf of Snooker Promotions (Malta), thanked all those who in any way have helped to make the European Open possible. " With the obvious problems that the withdrawal of tobacco sponsorship has brought about, it is indeed a mammoth task to replace such funding. We are therefore grateful to World Snooker for once again staging this important event in our country. A special thanks here would also go to Air Malta, one of the National Sponsors of the European Open, without whose contribution this event would have certainly not been possible."
Richard Balani on behalf of Snooker Promotions (Malta) also addressed the press conference. "It has almost become a mission for us to bring major international snooker events to Malta, thereby giving the Maltese public the chance to watch all the top players in action. Ever since we started organising events in Malta in 1994, we have always tried to improve on our events, both as regards quality of players as well as the level of organisation. Undoubtedly, the European Open will be no exception."
Mr Balani went on to give further details of the event: "This will be the third European Open tournament being staged in Malta over the past six years. The previous two were held in 1996 and 1997 and were won by John Parrott and John Higgins respectively."
The tournament will once again be played at the imposing Mediterranean Conference Center.
All matches up to and including the quarter-finals will be played on a best-of-nine frames, the semi-finals on a best of 11 frames, and the final over 17 frames.
The opening day will be dedicated to the play-off and wild card matches, which will be played at 6pm on November 23. While Tony Drago and Joe Grech are confirmed to be playing on this day, the other wild card or qualifier will depend on the results obtained by Alex Borg in his UK qualifiers for the event at the end of October.
After the opening day, there will be two sessions played daily, starting at 3 pm or 4pm and 7 pm or 8p~ The quarterfinals will be played on November 28 and 29 with the semi-finals on November 30. The final will be held on Saturday December 1 over two sessions -the first 8 frames at 3pm and the remaining 9 frames at 8pm.
Local television coverage for the event is expected to be quite extensive while arrangements are being finalised with an international TV Network to feature some 15-hours of transmission overseas. On top of this, a number of press journalists will be in Malta to cover the event, thus giving ample exposure to the tournament wherever snooker is followed.
Block tickets for the whole nine-day tournament, comprising 34 matches, will cost Lm20. These will be on sale from Monday, November 5, from the Cafe" La Veneziana in Valletta. Session and day tickets will cost Lm2 and Lm3 respectively except for the semi-finals and final, when day tickets will cost Lm4 and Lm5 respectively. As from Monday, November 19, all tickets will be available from the Mediterranean Conference Center.