John Higgins summoned a superb fightback to come from 3-0 down to beat Mark Williams 4-3 at the BetVictor Northern Ireland Open at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.
This was the 40th meeting between Higgins and Williams, who joined the circuit in the same year back in 1992. Today’s victory sees four-time Crucible king Higgins move 21-19 in front in the head to head, despite having lost the previous two meetings prior to this afternoon.
The illustrious pair have won no less than 55 ranking titles between them, with Higgins having won 31 to Williams’ 24 event wins.
This afternoon it was Williams who made the fastest start. The Welshman composed breaks of 69 and 53 on his way to establishing a 3-0 advantage, which left him a frame from victory.
Williams had looked set to wrap up the win when he led 54-21 in the fourth, but a missed red allowed Higgins a chance which he swallowed up. The Scot fired in a superb clearance of 42 to keep his chances alive.
Higgins punctuated that steal with a break of 110, which moved him within a frame at 3-2. He then forced a decider by clearing from green to pink to snatch the sixth and make it 3-3. Higgins controlled the final frame and took it to book a quarter-final clash with either Mark Selby or David Gilbert.
“I’m delighted. I was one ball away from losing at 3-0 behind. Mark will be kicking himself,” said 46-year-old Higgins. “I am delighted to come back and win. Mark has beaten me the last few times we have played so it was good to get a little one back on him.
“I think when we were younger we were more rivals. Now, in my eyes, I just enjoy playing those guys and I have so much respect for them. We don’t know how much longer we are going to be playing each other at the top of the game. It is great to be out there playing against someone as good as Mark.”
Masters champion Yan Bingtao edged out six-time World Champion Ronnie O’Sullivan 4-3 in an enthralling encounter.
Defeat denies O’Sullivan the chance to appear in the final for a fourth consecutive year. The Rocket was runner-up to Judd Trump in each of the last three years, losing all of the finals by a 9-7 scoreline.
Yan reached the final here back in 2017, when he was narrowly beaten 9-8 by Mark Williams. Since then he secured his first Triple Crown victory at the Masters and won a maiden ranking title at the Riga Masters.
Breaks of 89 and 51 helped Yan on his way to leading 3-2 this afternoon. He had looked set to get over the line when he led 71-0 in the fourth. However, 37-time ranking event winner O’Sullivan crafted a superb clearance of 74 to force a decider.
It was Yan who took the final frame on the colours and he will now face Mitchell Mann in the last eight. Mann booked his place in the quarters with a 4-1 defeat of Lyu Haotian.
Shaun Murphy put on a superb display to see off Stuart Bingham 4-1. The Magician conjured breaks of 50, 71, 63 and 110 on his way to the win. Next up the 2005 World Champion will face either Ricky Walden or Jackson Page.