John Higgins marked a record 28th appearance in snooker’s biggest invitation event by beating Zhao Xintong 6-2 in the first round of the Cazoo Masters.
Match schedule / Tickets
Higgins first took the stage in this prestigious event back in 1995 and has since been ever-present. He was previously tied with Steve Davis and Jimmy White on 27 appearances but now holds that record on his own. At the age of 46 he is ranked sixth in the world and it’s easy to see the all-time legend keeping his place among the top 16 for many years to come and extending that record.
Today he outmaneuvered a player 22 years his junior as he booked a place in the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace. Zhao was making his debut in the event having leapt into the top 16 by winning the Cazoo UK Championship last month. The Chinese ace showed early promise today with a century in the second frame, but then couldn’t maintain a foothold in the contest as his opponent pulled away.
Higgins is into the quarter-finals of this event for the 15th time and faces an intriguing clash with fellow veteran Mark Williams on Thursday evening. The Scot has been this season’s most consistent player so far, reaching four finals but losing all four, and he will be determined to capture his first silverware of the campaign.
Today’s match opened with fireworks from both players as Higgins made a break of 100 in the opening frame then Zhao responded with a 128, the new front-runner for the £15,000 high break prize. Zhao scored just 22 points in the next three frames as Higgins surged 4-1 ahead with a top run of 104.
Frame six went Zhao’s way but when he missed a risky long red in the seventh, trailing 24-8, he let Higgins in for a run of 30 which proved enough for 5-2. And two critical safety errors from Zhao in the eighth ended his hopes of a fight-back, as Higgins punished him with breaks of 39 and 78 to seal the result.
Wishaw’s Higgins lifted the trophy in 1999 and 2006 and came close to a third title last year but lost the final 10-8 against Yan Bingtao.
“Zhao is such a special talent, he makes it look ridiculously easy, the way he strokes the ball in,” said four-time World Champion Higgins. “I was just trying to make it difficult for him. He missed a couple that he usually wouldn’t miss and that gave me confidence, and I played pretty well. The table played well and it’s the best arena that anyone can play in.
“All of the top 16 are lucky to be here and anyone else will be desperate to be here next year. It’s neck and neck with the Crucible as an arena. They are different – the Crucible has more history – but this place is special.
“It’s a healthy rivalry I have with Mark Williams. Maybe ten or 15 years ago we were both in the top four and we were fighting for the same titles. We have both dropped down now and we can still win events. I look across at him now and think I have shared a snooker table with him for 30 years. It’s admiration on my part when I look at Mark and Ronnie O’Sullivan, that they are still playing to an unbelievable level. To play him in such an iconic arena, I can’t wait for Thursday night.
“Ronnie has moved into the stratosphere with Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry in terms of their records and me and Mark are a bit below.”
Zhao said: “John played really well. When I made a century in the second frame I thought I could win. But after that he didn’t give me many chances. I felt a bit of pressure, I was trying to focus on every ball, but John played too well. It’s a great venue, I hope I will be back here next year.”