Higgins is making his 26th consecutive appearance at the Crucible but his hunger for success remains strong. The Scot can now look forward to a second round tie against either David Gilbert – who he beat in the semi-finals last year – or Kurt Maflin.
World number five Higgins was runner-up to Judd Trump last year, to Mark Williams in 2018 and to Mark Selby in 2017. In all he has appeared in eight finals in Sheffield – only Stephen Hendry has played in more.
Welshman Stevens trailed 6-3 overnight but made a strong start today with a 138 total clearance. Higgins took two of the next three to lead 8-5 then crucially snatched a 32-minute 14th frame by clearing the colours. He made a 53 in the next as he sealed his spot in round two.
“When it went 6-4 I was thinking I just wanted to win one frame to be 7-6 ahead at the interval,” said 45-year-old Higgins. “So to nick two and be 8-5 ahead was massive.
“To come to the Crucible after all these years and walk out with no fans there – it’s not nice. But it’s still the Crucible and I was still on edge. I fell sorry for the debutants because they will not experience what it is like when it’s packed.
“In the big events so far this season I have let myself down. I am coming here a big underdog, but for the past month I have put a lot of work in and felt as if I have been hitting the ball pretty well. A couple of months ago I didn’t even think this tournament would happen so it is brilliant to be involved.
“I have got a chance. I have been through it all and I know what it takes. I’ll be ready for the next game.”