John Higgins continued his return to form by knocking world number one Mark Selby out of the Coral Players Championship, his 6-4 victory setting up a showpiece match with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
Higgins and O’Sullivan, two of snooker’s all-time greats, will meet in the quarter-finals on Friday at 1pm at the Preston Guild Hall (limited number of tickets still available, for details click here). It’s a repeat of their 2005 Grand Prix final at the same venue, when Higgins won 9-2 with four consecutive centuries.
It has been a patchy season for Wizard of Wishaw Higgins, with surprise early exits from several tournaments. But in recent weeks he has shown glimpses of his best, with runs to the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open and the semi-finals of last week’s Indian Open. And today’s win over Selby keeps his momentum going.
After sharing the first two frames, Higgins went 3-1 up with breaks of 68 and 58. Selby responded with 67, 76 and 121 to take three in a row to lead 4-3. But the Englishman didn’t pot a ball in the last three frames as Higgins dominated them with top runs of 58 and 68.
“I’m delighted because I haven’t beaten Mark for a couple of years and I have lost some big games against him,” said 43-year-old Higgins. “At 3-1 in front I was bracing myself to go close with him because you always know he’s going to come back at you. At 4-3 I was still trying to stay positive. In India last week I felt I was starting to hit the ball a bit better so that gave me confidence.
“I have made a drastic change to my practice situation, I’m playing at a unit in Glasgow now with Stephen Maguire and Anthony McGill. Hopefully that will give me impetus for the rest of my career. Before that I was getting really down in the dumps in the house and not practising. You need to put the work in to do well in this game. Hopefully I can give myself a chance now looking ahead to Sheffield.”
Higgins needs to win the tournament in Preston to earn a spot in the new Coral Tour Championship in Llandudno later this month. He added: “That’s not on my mind because every game is tough here. If I had won the tournament in India it might have made it a bit easier. But I’m just trying to play my best in each game.”
Stuart Bingham beat David Gilbert 6-4 in a match which has vital implications in terms of Coral Tour Championship qualification. Bingham is now up to seventh on the one-year ranking list, with the top eight after the Gibraltar Open to make it to Llandudno, while Gilbert will need a deep run in Gibraltar to have a chance (for more on that race click here).
A run of 86 gave Gilbert the opening frame before English Open champion Bingham took three in a row with 60, 71 and 68. Gilbert stole the fifth frame on the black then added the next two to lead 4-3. But Basildon’s Bingham looked in control for the remainder of the contest and sealed it in frame ten with a break of 57.
“The race to get to Llandudno has been on my mind since Christmas,” said Bingham, who now plays Mark Allen on Thursday evening. “It was a big match for both of us and a good win for me. I messed up a chance to go 4-1 up, then he had the momentum at 4-3. I just tried to dig in and eventually got it done. I’ll need to improve in my next match.
“If I do qualify for Llandudno, the extra £20,000 (guaranteed to first round losers) will also help in terms of making sure of my Crucible place. The win today might have been worth something like £50,000. That will help me do the garden up – I need to put fake grass in because when my son kicks the football around he gets mud everywhere!”