John Higgins is just one win away from his third ranking title of the year – and 28th of his career – thanks to a 9-4 win over Mark Selby in the semi-finals of the International Championship in China.
Wishaw’s Higgins outplayed world number one Selby to set up a best-of-19 frames final against David Gilbert tomorrow in Daqing. Victory would give Higgins the top prize of £125,000, which would be his biggest cheque since winning his fourth world title in 2011.
It would also put him ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan on the list of career ranking crowns, and level with his boyhood idol Steve Davis, though still eight behind Stephen Hendry’s record of 36.
Higgins, who turned 40 in May, went nearly three years without a ranking title after winning the 2012 Shanghai Masters and his best days looked behind him. But he broke that drought by capturing the Welsh Open in February, and he went on to triumph at the Australian Goldfields Open in July. His performances this week – notably a 6-0 thumping of Shaun Murphy and today’s comfortable defeat of Selby – have shown that his renowned all-round game is very much intact.
Breaks of 56 and 101 helped the Scot build a 3-0 lead, and though Selby pulled one back, Higgins made an 87 in the fifth then a trademark 58 clearance in the sixth to surge 5-1 ahead.
Leicester’s Selby, who is yet to win a title this season, took the last two frames of the afternoon session to raise hopes of a fight-back. But Higgins started the evening session strongly as breaks of 64 and 54 helped make it 7-3, then he cleared from the last red in the next to go five up with six to play. Selby at least forced an interval with a run of 79, but world number 12 Higgins got the better of frame 13 to set up a final clash with 40th-ranked Gilbert.
“I have been very pleased with the way I have played in this tournament,” said Higgins. “I feel as if I’m near the top of my game. I concentrated on every frame today and didn’t give Mark many chances. We have similar games and it was just my day today.
“David Gilbert has played well this week to get through and it’s going to be a great final. All the players know how good he is and he should have done a lot better in his career – he’s starting to show that now. I’ll just try my best and hopefully give him a good game.
“The crowds here have been great all week and the conditions are perfect, the best I have seen in ten years.”
Selby said: “John just played really well from start to finish, he is as good as ever. In the first frame I missed a red to a middle pocket, then I didn’t get another chance until I was 3-0 down. I was happy to get out at 5-3, but tonight John was just too strong. He punished me whenever he got a chance. If he plays like that tomorrow he’ll be very hard to beat.”