John Higgins boosted his hopes of a first ranking title since 2012 by beating Luca Brecel 6-4 in the semi-finals of the BetVictor Welsh Open in Cardiff.
Four-time World Champion Higgins has struggled to produce his best snooker since winning the Shanghai Masters in September 2012. But after building confidence gradually in recent weeks, the 39-year-old is now showing flashes of the game which has made him one of the sport’s all-time greats. Tomorrow he will have the chance to win his 26th ranking title when he battles Mark Williams or Ben Woollaston for the £60,000 top prize.
Belgium’s Brecel had enjoyed a brilliant run, knocking out five opponents including Ricky Walden and World Champion Mark Selby. The promising 19-year-old couldn’t improve on his career-best semi-final appearance, but it surely won’t be long before he’s back at the business end of a major tournament.
Higgins made a tremendous start with breaks of 101 and 137 to win the first two frames. He had a chance to clear from 49-0 down in the third but missed a tough last red along a side cushion on 52 and his teenage opponent took advantage to get a frame on the board. Brecel made a break of 62 for 2-2 and then took a scrappy fifth to take the lead. He also had a chance in the sixth but missed a tricky last red with the rest and a relieved Higgins capitalised for 3-3.
A run of 72 put Scotland’s Higgins ahead before Brecel got the better of frame eight for 4-4. But it was the Wizard of Wishaw who raised his game when it mattered most. A superb 135 – missing the last black when set for the highest break of the tournament – gave him the lead. A run of 50 put him in charge of frame ten, and when Brecel missed a simple black, Higgins added 26 to reach his first ranking final since the 2013 Wuxi Classic.
“I really enjoyed the game because I felt as if I was back playing the way I know I can,” said Higgins, who is aiming to win the Welsh Open for a record fourth time. “Luca is a great talent – he reminded me of the way Judd Trump played in the World final in 2011. He showed no nerves and looks as if he loves it out there. I said to him he’ll be here forever, playing in these big matches. He’s a great young boy with a great future.
“I’ve been struggling for the last couple of years so hopefully I can keep on playing the way I did today. It would be great to play Mark Williams in the final because the atmosphere would be incredible. We’ve had some great games over the years. But he’s got a very tough game against Ben Woollaston tonight. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a final so I’m delighted.”