AFTER BEATING John Higgins to win the 1995 Welsh Open, the last of his 28 ranking titles, Steve Davis said of his then teenage opponent: “I like him. He plays the game the right way.”
20 years on and Higgins, now 40, has won his 28th ranking title, a proud moment for someone who has arguably assumed Davis’s mantle as perhaps the finest all round match-player the game has ever seen.
Higgins defeated Dave Gilbert 10-5 in Daqing in China to win the International Championship and with it a £125,000 first prize. The money is the reward but the glory comes from winning and joining Davis in joint second place on the all-time list of ranking event winners, with Stephen Hendry still out in front on 36.
“Steve was my hero growing up and back then I would never have dreamed I could equal any of his records. It’s a moment I will never forget,” he said.
Higgins has a masterful command of all aspects of snooker. His problem in recent times seems to have been maintaining focus and thus achieving consistency but throughout the tournament his concentration was excellent. He played attacking snooker to the highest level, humbling Shaun Murphy and Mark Selby along the way.
The first session of the final was close but Higgins played the better snooker in the second half of the match. Gilbert didn’t make many mistakes but was punished for those he did.
Higgins has now won three ranking titles during 2015, ramming home the maxim that life begins at 40. Perhaps this personal milestone reminded the Scot that he is nearer the end of his career than the start and forced him to knuckle down. But on today’s evidence, his career at the top level is a long way from over. He returns to the world’s top eight and will go into the Champion of Champions and UK Championship full of confidence.
Higgins today in fact equalled one of Ronnie O'Sullivan's records. It is 21 years and 9 days between Higgins winning his first and most recent ranking titles, the same as for the time span between O'Sullivan's victories at the 1993 and 2014 UK Championships.
As for Gilbert, his £65,000 runners-up prize is £10,000 more than he earned the whole of last season. He rises to 21st in the world rankings so it was a good week for a player who has long threatened to make a breakthrough.
The tournament was a hit with the paying public too. Daqing is an oil city and it seems an area where ordinary people can actually afford tickets, something that isn’t true everywhere in China.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.