JOHN HIGGINS demonstrated his trademark poise under pressure in Beijing on Thursday to set up a China Open quarter-final against local favourite Ding Junhui.
Higgins played a great deciding frame against Judd Trump, who himself did very little wrong. Having put the yellow safe to protect his lead, he found himself snookered on it. Higgins, who had made a terrific break to get back into the frame, then cut it in and added a pressure green before completing the clearance.
The four times world champion has made many of these sort of key breaks down the years but not so many in recent seasons. However, Higgins rejoined snooker’s winners’ circle at the Welsh Open in February and this was another sign that the old game has returned.
He invariably seems to play well against Trump, who he has now beaten nine times out of 13. It’s a more even record against Ding (8-7 to Higgins) and promises to be a high quality affair as Ding was again much more solid than of late during his 5-2 victory over Williams.
It could be that after his stellar campaign last season, his own expectations were raised and found to be impossible to meet. A succession of early exits may have sapped confidence but this is where attitude comes in: the will to win, the refusal to accept any more disappointing performances.
Champions are often forged in the white heat of disappointment. Stephen Hendry’s lowest moment as a professional – his 9-0 defeat to Marcus Campbell in the first round of the 1998 UK Championship – inspired him to work harder than ever before. The result a few months later was a modern day record seventh world title.
Stephen Maguire’s 5-3 defeat by Barry Hawkins means the Glaswegian will have to qualify for the Crucible if Robert Milkins reaches the final. Milkins must first beat Mark Selby – who lost in the quarter-final stage last year to Mike Dunn – and then Shaun Murphy or Kurt Maflin.
TV viewers were unable to see either Selby or Murphy progress due to a fire in a production truck knocking out all pictures. Selby wasn’t exactly smoking hot against Dave Gilbert but got the job done. Murphy, for whom eradicating kicks has become an almost evangelical mission, made a 143 total clearance in beating Jamie Jones.
Murphy is right about kicks. Put simply, they’re a bloody nuisance. Add in springy bounces and you have conditions which can be frustrating for the players.
However, a number of players disliked the special polish used to clean the balls at the Lisbon Open by way of an experiment, so whatever World Snooker decide to do in this regard they will be heavily criticised.
Gary Wilson reached his first major quarter-final at the Welsh Open a few weeks ago and is now in another thanks to his defeat of Dechawat Poomjaeng.
Wilson faces Hawkins, for whom this season has been something of a trial, certainly ever since he lost 6-5 from 5-0 up to Nigel Bond in the last 64 of the UK Championship. But, like Ding, he has got on a roll this week and is slowly rediscovering some confidence.
Of the eight remaining players, five are ranking event winners. Ding v Higgins stands out as the tie of the round but the other three encounters provide plenty of scope for drama and close matches.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.