John Higgins won his third Betfred.com World Snooker Championship title with an emphatic 18-9 defeat of Shaun Murphy in the final in Sheffield.
The Wizard of Wishaw cemented his position in snooker history by becoming only the ninth player to lift the famous trophy more than twice, following in the footsteps of Joe and Fred Davis, John Pulman, John Spencer, Ray Reardon, Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan. Only the last trio of that octet have won a hat-trick of titles at the Crucible.
Higgins, 33, was joined on stage by wife Denise and three young children Pierce, Oliver and Claudia to pocket a cheque for £250,000 after adding to the World crowns he captured in 1998 and 2007. It’s the 11th time since 1990 that the trophy has headed north of the border, fellow Scot Hendry having taken it home seven times as well as Graeme Dott once.
In a tournament which has showcased snooker’s younger generation, notably Mark Allen, Neil Robertson and Murphy, Higgins has come out on top and is the oldest winner since Dennis Taylor in 1985.
Though O’Sullivan’s pre-tournament prediciton that he and Higgins were the only contenders for the title was off-the-cuff rather than earnestly felt, O’Sullivan has long considered Higgins as his closest rival for the unofficial title of the world’s best player.
Throughout this tournament, Higgins has shown his outstanding matchplay qualities and rubber-stamped his reputation as one of the greatest all-round competitors of all time. Calmness under pressure has been his most valuable ally, particularly against both Jamie Cope and Mark Selby when he came from the brink of defeat to win 13-12.
In the nine years between winning his first and second titles, Higgins wondered whether he would go down as a very good player, or one of the true greats. His second crown two years ago bolstered his reputation, and now he must feel his potential has been fulfilled.
It’s the 20th ranking title of his career and he’s the only player this season to have won two; having reached another landmark last October when he won the Royal London Watches Grand Prix, his first ranking success on Scottish soil.
Higgins started this season, precariously, in 14th position in the provisional rankings. But it’s been one of the best campaigns of his career – he also reached the final of last month’s Bank of Beijing China Open – and he finishes it back in the top four of the official rankings. On next term’s one-year list he is well out in front so will be a clear front-runner for the No 1 position in 2010/11.
Asked about the emergence of the young guns after his semi-final defeat of Allen, Higgins joked that the likes of himself, O’Sullivan and Mark Williams were clinging on to their status by their fingertips. Now Higgins can rightly feel that he has more than a foothold at the top of the sport, and will feel that he can go on to win more titles, including a fourth at the Crucible.
Murphy, the 26-year-old from Irthlingborough, will surely be back on the biggest stage to battle for his second World title. Having won the Maplin UK Championship in December, he missed out on becoming only the fifth player to win the UK and World titles in the same season.
After a terrible start to the season, in which he lost his opening match in the first four ranking events, he has at least proved that he still has the game to compete with the very best, and retains his position of No 3 in the world.
Perhaps his gruelling semi-final against Neil Robertson, which he won 17-14 late on Saturday night, took its toll on Murphy, as from 5-5 yesterday he looked drained and lost control of the match. Even in today’s third session he had chances to win at least six of the eight frames, but starting tonight at 16-8 down he had too much to do.
Murphy had a scoring chance in the first frame tonight but missed a black off its spot on 21, leaving Higgins to draw within one of victory with a smooth 58.
The Englishman kept his hopes alive by winning frame 26 with a break of 59 for 17-9. But in the 600th frame of the Championship, Higgins sealed victory with a calm 73.
Though Higgins didn’t quite hit top gear over the course of the final, he did make breaks of 78, 52, 50, 57, 95, 128, 51, 128, 61, 52, 58 and 73.