JOHN HIGGINS claimed a hugely satisfying and morale-boosting win over Stuart Bingham on Sunday night in their first-round match at the 2014 Dafabet Masters at Alexandra Palace to set up a quarter-final with defending champion Mark Selby.
The 38-year-old Scot, whose two titles in this prestigious invitation event are probably below par given his other achievements, was coming off a difficult six months that has seen him tinkering with and changing cues, and suffering a series of early exits in the major tournaments.
But four-time world champion Higgins, who has fallen at the first hurdle 10 times in the Masters over the years, moved into the quarter-finals of the £600,000 event with a 6-2 win over world No7 Bingham, who had finished 2013 as strongly as most.
The Christmas break probably did Bingham no favours, interrupting a rhythm that had seen him reach the final of the new Champion of Champions in November, and only lose 9-8 to world No1 Neil Robertson in a thrilling UK Championship semi-final.
But this was a very welcome result for Higgins, down to No12 in the world rankings and discounted by many for honours this week, and represented the perfect pick-me-up to start 2014 after doing little since a PTC win in Bulgaria and reaching the final of the Wuxi Classic.
While not at his very best despite a century break, Higgins – now using his third cue of the campaign - was more than good enough to see off the 37-year-old Bingham who branded his own display “diabolical”.
Higgins said: “I played better than I have in the past few months, so there is plenty to take from this. Stuart didn’t play well at all, not like he has been recently. It almost put me off some of the balls he was missing.
“He was expected to win this by some people and maybe the pressure flipped a bit onto him. I threw the last cue away after the UK Championships, I was in turmoil at times last year. But I had a better tempo out there tonight, I was seeing the breaks and it was satisfying, I feel a lot happier.
“Mark Selby is right up there obviously, and I don’t think we have played for a while. But it does mean I can spend some time with my brother who is down in London for work for three days, he probably through he was going to miss me the way I have been playing.”
Bingham said: “My nan was in the crowd, she could have beaten me tonight. It was diabolical, comical really the chances I was giving John. Maybe I tried too hard, I have never done well here. It is disappointing, I had a lot of support but it is back to the drawing board.”
The bookmakers had allowed Higgins’ recent form since July to influence their judgment, most making it even match against the in-form Bingham despite the Scot’s impressive track record and 27 major titles.
Higgins won the first frame, and could easily have added the second – spurning a good opportunity and eventually seeing Bingham level the match at 1-1 on a re-spotted black.
But from that point onwards Higgins began to exert control, moving 2-1 ahead helped by a break of 50 and then taking a two-frame lead into the mid-session interval after a run of 94.
As he found his stride further efforts of 65 and then his highest break of the match to date (109) took him to the brink of victory, four up with five to play only for Bingham to respond with a 91. However the end was only delayed by a single frame.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.