John Higgins beat Barry Hawkins 9-7 in the final of the ManBetX Welsh Open, becoming the first player to win the title five times.
Higgins came from 4-2 down to win seven of the last ten frames of a high quality final in Cardiff to take the Ray Reardon Trophy and a top prize of £70,000. The Welsh Open is snooker’s longest running ranking event other than the World and UK Championships, and Higgins now goes one ahead of Ronnie O’Sullivan with five crowns, having previously triumphed in 2000, 2010, 2011 and 2015.
Scotland’s Higgins captured his second ranking title of the season, having won the Indian Open in September, and 30th of his career. That leaves him just two behind O’Sullivan on the all time list and six behind Stephen Hendry.
At the age of 42, Higgins remains one of the fiercest competitors on the tour, and his renowned all-round game is as strong as ever. The trio of greats who turned pro in 1992 – Higgins, O’Sullivan and Mark Williams – have now won eight of this season’s 16 ranking events between them. All three play with the demeanour of men who have achieved plenty in their careers and are now enjoying what is left, without the pressure that usually comes with intense competition at the top level.
Higgins remains at number five in the world rankings but closes the gap on fourth-placed Ding Junhui.
Hawkins, who moves up one place to seventh thanks to his £30,000 runner-up prize, missed the chance to win a fourth ranking title and first since the World Grand Prix a year ago. This season has been a tough one for the 38-year-old Londoner on and off the table as he has had to come to terms with the tragic death of his brother in law.
As he explained after his semi-final match yesterday, only in recent weeks has he been able to focus on snooker. A welcome return to form in Cardiff will give the former Crucible finalist confidence for the rest of the season. However he misses out on a place in the Players Championship in Llandudno later this month – only the top prize tonight would have jumped him into the top 16 of the one-year ranking list.
Tied at 4-4 after the first session, Higgins took the opening frame tonight, then came from 44-10 behind in the next to win it with a 49 clearance, going 6-4 ahead. Hawkins hit back superbly with back to back centuries, 103 and 138, to level at the interval.
In frame 13, Hawkins had what looked like a handy 44-4 lead with several reds close to the top cushion, only for Higgins to make a trademark 66 clearance to regain the lead. The 14th came down to a safety battle on the last red and Hawkins, trailing 59-38, converted a cracking long pot to set up a chance to clear, and he got to the pink before missing a tricky pot to a baulk corner. After a brief tactical exchange, Higgins knocked in the pink to lead 8-6.
Back came Hawkins with a break of 82 to draw within one frame. But the Englishman botched a safety early in frame 16, letting Higgins in for a break of 64 which ended when he missed a tough red to a baulk corner. Hawkins had one more chance but missed a red to centre, and Higgins added the points he needed to win a Home Nations tournament for the first time.
“That was one of the most enjoyable finals I have played in and it’s fantastic to win,” said four-time World Champion Higgins. “There were a couple of really tight frames towards the end. Barry will be kicking himself that he didn’t go 7-6 up or win the next frame to go 7-7. It seemed destined to go to a decider and the match probably deserved that. But I made a good break in the last frame.
“I’m over the moon, it will sink in over the next couple of days. To get to 30 ranking titles is beyond my wildest dreams. Who knows how many more I can win but I have managed to win two this season.
“After losing the World Championship final last season (to Mark Selby) I got a bit down on myself in private moments, thinking it was a great chance to win. But now I have proved I am still capable of winning events. I haven’t done that at the Masters, UK or World for seven years so that’s my goal now.
“Walking out for the final session tonight at 6-6, there’s nothing to beat that. Your adrenaline is going, you’re nervous, short of breath and you want to be sick. There are a whole range of emotions. But when you’re actually down on the shot you’re enjoying it and loving the situation you are in. I can’t replicate that in anything else I do in my life. It’s like a drug, you want to try it again and again.”
Hawkins, who has now lost three of his six ranking finals, said: “I am a bit gutted. I feel as if I played well but John was more clinical. I can’t beat myself up too much because John is one of the all-time greats and I pushed him all the way. I kept fighting and didn’t give up.
“I had a chance to go 5-2 up in the first session and you have to take those sort of opportunities against John. I felt very good in spells and there are definitely positives to take from the week. I feel as if my game is in good shape.”