John Higgins remained on course to win his first ranking title since 2012 by beating Stephen Maguire 5-1 in the quarter-finals of the BetVictor Welsh Open.
Four-time World Champion Higgins has suffered a slump in form since reaching the final of the Wuxi Classic in 2013, and this is his first ranking semi-final since. He had even looked in danger of dropping out of the world’s top 16, although this week’s run in Cardiff is likely to keep him among the elite for the rest of the season.
And Maguire had been something of a bogey player for Higgins, with the Wizard of Wishaw losing their last seven meetings, but today was a different story as Higgins earned a match with Ricky Walden or Luca Brecel in the last four of the £300,000 event.
Higgins took the first two frames despite a top break of just 37, and he led 35-1 in the third. Maguire hit back with a break of 51 and eventually won the frame with a clever double on the final pink. A run of 63 from Higgins made it 3-1 at the mid-session interval.
In frame five, Maguire had a chance to clear from 50-0 down, but miscued on the penultimate red, allowing Higgins to extend his lead. Both players had chances in the next and it came down to a safety battle on the yellow, and a cracking mid-range pot from Higgins set him up to close out the match.
“It was a good win against one of the form players, especially as I’d lost the last seven matches against Stephen,” said 39-year-old Higgins. “But it was a scrappy match and the performance could have been 100 times better. We are friendly and spend a lot of time together on the circuit, but you have to put that to the back of your mind.
“It has been a long time coming, to get to a semi-final. I feel as if I am getting my game back, but I’m still missing too many easy balls. If I do that in the semis I’ll get found out so I have to eradicate that.
“If I were to win this for a fourth time and go above two legends of the game in Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan, that would be a feather in my cap.
“It must be a bad thing to be the favourite in this tournament because all of the favourites are at home.”