JOHN Higgins insisted he still has the burning desire required to win a fifth Betfred World Championship title after getting his latest campaign up and running at the Crucible on Sunday night.
Higgins, 40 next month, beat England’s Rob Milkins 10-5 in Sheffield to ease through to the last 16 – though later saw even his progress upstaged by fellow Scot and Crucible debutant Anthony McGill.
The 24-year-old McGill, of whom great things have long been expected north of the border, resorted to a neat trick against Stephen Maguire perfected against Mark King in final qualifying – knocking in a century in the decider after losing a big lead to win 10-9.
For his part world No13 Higgins has looked a man reborn in recent months after winning the Welsh Open in February – a first ranking success for two and a half years.
That followed a prolonged slump when Higgins, the winner of 26 ranking titles, suffered from a loss of form and confidence – together with and cue problems.
But his victory in Cardiff and another good run in Beijing at the China Open recently have confirmed he may well be a live contender once again on the biggest stage.
Higgins wrapped up victory with a flourish and a magnificent break of 106 – only for McGill to top that with a 122 to get over the line after seeing Maguire claw back from 9-5 down.
Higgins said: “I feel both relieved and proud to beat Robert, he is a dangerous player – and a former top-16 player but it meant I knew I would have to play well so I was pleased with the draw.
“I hit the ball well and felt good in amongst the balls. They don’t get any easier the first-round matches, and that’s the best I have felt in three years here.
“Contender? I think there are others ahead of me even if I know what it takes to win it. But I will be looking forward to the next game.
“But the fire is there and I would love to get a fifth title and go level with Ronnie O’Sullivan. There have been moments in the last couple of years when I thought I wouldn’t win a title again.
“But to win this again would be amazing and especially to match Ronnie who has outstripped me in recent years. Hendry, Ronnie and Davis are ahead of me on records but that’s not a bad three.
“Cutting my cue down was probably the key to changing my fortunes, it helped my technique.”
McGill, after his win to set up a clash with defending champion Selby, said: “Making a century after seeing that lead go away was similar to the final qualifier, when I did that after losing a 9-6 lead against Mark King. It isn't a bad habit to have.
"The fact that I know Stephen so well and that familiarity made it easier on my Crucible debut, it felt like we were playing in the club in Glasgow rather than on this stage.”
With the Scots making the headlines Graeme Dott insisted he is snooker’s ‘Grand National’ stayer after knocking out world No7 Ricky Walden on Sunday.
Dott, who won the world title in 2006, has a great record at the Crucible having also been to two other finals.
And the 37-year-old who loves the longer contests beat this season’s International Championship winner Walden 10-8 to reach the last 16.
He said: “When the pressure is on here, I always feel I am going to be okay. It probably does qualify as an upset, not a massive one but respect to Ricky he is higher-ranked than me.
“The longer matches clearly suit me. If you compare it to horse racing, I am like a Grand National horse and normally I am running in seven-furlong races which are not far enough.”
Photograph by Monique Limbos