John Higgins beat Stephen Maguire 9-6 in the Wyldecrest Park Homes Welsh Open final – and dedicated victory to his father.
Higgins’ supreme matchplay qualities came to the fore as he recovered a 5-2 deficit to beat friend Maguire 9-6 at the Newport Centre and win the £30,000 first prize – in the first all-Scottish ranking final since 2005.
The Wizard of Wishaw has been on a magnificent run of form since December and has now won 11 consecutive ranking matches, capturing the 12BET.com UK Championship and now becoming the first player to win two ranking titles this season.
It’s been a turbulent 12 months for Higgins since he won this title last year, with a six month ban from snooker followed by the recent death of his father John senior, whose nickname on the circuit was Hector.
He has shown extraordinary resolve and composure to produce some of the best form of his career under trying circumstances.
“My dad was here last year and we enjoyed a party after the final,” emotional Higgins recalled. “I’m sure my mum and my wife will have a party tonight and Stephen will also join us. We’ll have one for Hector up in the sky. He’ll be looking down and he’ll be happy. I was nearly cracking up at the end, I had to try really hard to keep my emotions in check.”
It’s the 23rd ranking title of his career, putting him third on the all-time list, one ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan. He’s the only player other than Stephen Hendry to win the Welsh Open three times, and the first player to successfully defend a ranking title since O’Sullivan won here in 2004 and 2005. He also extends his lead at the top of the world rankings.
Glasgow’s 29-year-old Maguire was appearing in his first ranking final in three years, and climbs two places to sixth in the world. But he’ll be furious with himself tonight for squandering chances which might have put him in position to win a fifth ranking crown. In the key segment of the match, from 5-2 to 5-7, he was first among the balls in four of those frames, but couldn’t finish them off.
Higgins trailed 5-3 after the first session but could draw on two memories: the UK final against Mark Williams when he recovered deficits of 6-2 and 9-5 to win 10-9, and the 2007 World Championship semi-final when he trailed Maguire 14-10 but hit back to win 17-15. In the end, the 9-6 scoreline matched that of the last time the two met in a ranking final at the 2004 British Open.
In the opening frame of the evening session, Higgins missed the last red with the rest, giving Maguire a chance to clear up, but he missed a tricky final pink close to the top cushion. Higgins potted it and sent the cue ball around the angles to get position, and enjoyed a stroke of good fortune as the white rattled in the jaws of a top corner and finished perfect on the black, which he sunk to close to 5-4.
Maguire was first among the balls in frame ten and made 48 before missing a tricky thin cut with the rest. A loose safety let Higgins among the balls and he cleared superbly with 63.
The next followed a similar pattern as Maguire led 56-11 when he slashed wildly at a long red. Higgins made 38 then won a safety battle on the last red and dished up to take the lead for the first time in the match. He now had the momentum and a smooth 75 gave him a 7-5 advantage.
The interval came at the right time for Maguire as he composed himself and hit back with a 75 in frame 13 to halve the gap. But he missed an easy red early in the next and Higgins took control with 54, before adding a further 66 and go 8-6 ahead.
Another loose shot from Maguire at the start of frame 15 set Higgins up for a run of 72. Still there was time for drama as Maguire made 32 then got the two snookers he needed. But his attempted long brown rattled in the jaws and sent the white in-off, allowing Higgins the easiest of tasks to secure the title.
“Stephen played great to go 5-2 up and I was staring down the barrel,” said three times World Champion Higgins. “He was putting pressure on every shot. When he missed a red at 5-2 when the balls were everywhere, it was a massive turning point and he will be kicking himself.
“At 8-6 when he got the snookers, I felt like he was doing to me what I did to Mark Williams when I was 9-7 down in the UK final. But then he was unlucky to go in-off the brown.
“I’ve just tried so hard in recent tournaments, taking one ball and one frame at a time. It takes a lot out of you concentration wise, but if I can keep it up then I can keep doing well. It’s a tough game but it makes you feel great and you have to enjoy it while you are winning.”
Maguire said: “I let him off the hook when I missed the red at 5-2, although even if it had been 6-2 it wouldn’t have meant I had won the match. At least I’m competing again, because there have been times where I didn’t feel I could do that. If I’m playing guys on their A game, at least I can answer back a bit.
“I’m getting there and going the right way. If I keep knocking on the door it will come and I’ll win one sooner or later.”