Higgins could face a repeat of the 2011 Crucible final when he beat Judd Trump
John Higgins reached the Betfred World Championship final for the third consecutive year with a nerve-shredding 17-16 victory over David Gilbert in the semi-finals.
The match came down to a deciding frame in which both players battled for an opening on the final red. Eventually Gilbert left Higgins a thin cut to a middle pocket, which the four-time champion converted to reach his eighth final at the Theatre of Dreams. That draws Higgins level with Steve Davis in terms of Crucible final appearances, one behind Stephen Hendry’s record of nine.
Scotland’s Higgins succumbed to an 18-15 defeat against Mark Selby in 2017 and lost a classic final against Mark Williams 18-16 last year. He will be hoping to avoid three consecutive final defeats when he faces Judd Trump or Gary Wilson on Sunday and Monday. It will be the richest match in snooker history, with a £500,000 top prize on offer.
It was an emotional end to a career best run for Tamworth’s Gilbert. The former potato farmer has enjoyed a fairytale rise to fame over recent years. Gilbert dropped off the professional circuit at the end of the 2010/11 season and required Q School to resurrect his snooker career. This year he was a seed at the Crucible for the first time, having been runner-up at the Yushan World Open and the German Masters. Gilbert picks up £100,000, his biggest ever pay day, for reaching the semi-finals.
World number five Higgins, trailing 13-11, had an early chance in the first frame today but only made 20 before missing the pink to a centre pocket. Gilbert punished him with a superb 105 clearance, the 88th century of the tournament.
Back came Higgins, taking three frames in a row with top breaks of 52 and 74 to level at 14-14 at the interval. Frame 29 was re-racked twice, but that didn’t slow down Higgins’ momentum as a run of 96 put him ahead for the first time since 3-2. World number 16 Gilbert replied with an excellent 78 for 15-15.
In frame 31, Higgins made 23 before missing a red with the long rest to a top corner. Gilbert’s 53 put him ahead, and when Higgins missed a long pot on the third-last red, the Englishman added 12 which proved enough to put him ahead. But a safety error from Gilbert early in the 32nd let Higgins in for a marvellous 139 total clearance to force the decider.
Gilbert had the first opportunity and made 28 before missing a tough black, cueing over another red. Higgins stepped in and made 55, then ran out of position on the final red. The subsequent safety battle ended with Higgins coming through to seal the momentous win.
“I don’t know how I got through that match,” said 43-year-old Higgins, aiming for his 31st ranking title. “I could have thrown the towel in during the first three sessions, I was getting so annoyed with myself, but I was just trying to hang in.
“I’ve got to say I was lucky in that last frame as well. Dave got a kick on 28 and left himself bridging over a red for the black and missed, otherwise he might have cleared up.
“I could see he was really upset at the end, that’s what it does to you, but he’ll be back. If I wasn’t in the tournament and I was watching him back home — like 99% of the players — I’d be wanting Dave to win because he’s a diamond of a guy.
“He let me off the hook in the first two sessions. He wouldn’t have had a good night’s sleep only leading 13-11 because he would have been thinking he should have been 15-9 or 16-8 in front. I was over the moon to only be 13-11 behind. It was such a high quality final session, it was a great game.
“My wife Denise and the kids came down. I needed their support, because you don’t know how many more times you’re going to be coming here. I felt I had to try and savour it, to try and get every ounce out of myself, and my family can help me.
“It would be interesting to play Judd in the final again. It would be a brilliant final to be involved in and play him again. He’s a different player, an unbelievable all round player.”
Gilbert said: “I have loved every minute of it since I’ve been here. I came here with no expectations. It was an honour to play John – he’s an absolute legend of the game, very classy. I’m absolutely gutted to lose of course. To have got to a world final wow, what an incredible feeling that would have been. I’ve got nothing to feel too sad about though, I gave it my everything.
“To get a kick on an easy red in the last frame to leave me hampered on the black…that’s a bitter taste right now. The way I felt at the table right then was the best feeling I’ve had in my life and I really think I could have potted a few more balls.
“This is probably the best couple of weeks I’ve had in my career by a mile. I’d love to be playing tomorrow. It might be the closest I ever come to a World Championship but I’m not going to feel down about it. Thank you to all my friends and my wife. We’ve had a fantastic time. It’s time to put the cue away for a couple of weeks and have a beer.”