JOHN HIGGINS returned to snooker’s winners’ circle with a 9-3 victory over Ben Woollaston at the BetVictor Welsh Open to land the 26th ranking title of his career in Cardiff on Sunday night.
The match rather petered out as Woollaston, understandably edgy in his first major final, could not get going in the concluding session.
The Leicester man suffered a blow in the last frame of the afternoon when he trapped Higgins in a snooker on the green only for the Scot to fluke it and clear up to lead 5-3.
The final session saw mistakes on both sides but Higgins did enough to ease to a commanding victory and secure the £60,000 first prize.
Life, some say, begins at 40. Even if this isn’t true, it appears snooker careers do not necessarily end there.
Higgins hits the milestone in May and Ronnie O’Sullivan at the end of the year but these two authentic modern greats are proving stubbornly resistant to the usual decline. Mark Williams, 40 next month, was a semi-finalist, underlining that these celebrated members of the class of ’92 have indeed retained their class.
Higgins’s form had picked up a little coming into the tournament but he has spent much of the last two seasons treading water, a frustrating series of early defeats knocking confidence and causing him to slide to 14th in the world rankings.
All through his career, even in the real glory days, Higgins experienced peaks and troughs of form. He once went three years between winning ranking titles between 2001 and 2004, slightly longer than the gap between his capture of the 2012 Shanghai Masters and victory in Cardiff this evening.
But at the age of 39, he must have been aware that the odds on him remaining a serial title challenger are lengthening. This is why his victory over Woollaston must have been so satisfying.
Woollaston, supported by his friend and fellow son of Leicester Mark Selby, can take great heart from the victories he had during the week and the toughness he displayed, particularly in winning the deciding frame of his semi-final against Williams. The experience of playing in a big final will stand him in good stead if he is in this position again.
You’ll never please all the people all of the time but there was a general feeling early on in the tournament that there was too much going on and it resembled more a PTC than a ranking event.
The problem with the flat 128 at venues is that it values quantity over quality. A breathless sprint of best of sevens meant most matches went by unnoticed. The tournament only really came into its own on quarter-finals day – day 5 of 7.
However, the success of an event depends less on what players think and more on the reaction of the paying and viewing public. Crowds were very good considering this venue had not been used since 2003 and the Welsh Open, often written off as one of the circuit’s poor relations, is an important part of the British snooker calendar, as it has been since its inception in 1992.
Higgins, for the record, has now won it more times than anyone else.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.