John Higgins produced a sizzling display of break-building to beat Liang Wenbo 6-4 and reach the quarter-finals of the Dafabet Masters.
Higgins was arguably the best player of 2015, winning three ranking titles, and he made a cracking start to 2016 by making three centuries and two more breaks over 70 in an excellent match against China’s Liang. Masters debutant Liang had a clear chance to force a deciding frame but a missed green in the tenth frame proved his last shot.
Wizard of Wishaw Higgins goes through to a clash with World Champion Stuart Bingham on Friday at 7pm at Alexandra Palace. Tickets for that match are still available – for details click here
World number seven Higgins has a mixed record in the Masters having won the title twice but also lost in the first round 11 times in 22 appearances. This time he must be considered among the favourites for the £200,000 top prize having found imperious form in recent months, particularly in winning the International Championship in November.
Liang earned a Masters spot for the first time thanks to his run to the final of the UK Championship and he almost gave as good as he got today. Higgins took the opening frame with a break of 119, then Liang levelled with an 88 and also won frame three to lead 2-1. Scotland’s Higgins hit back with a run of 104 – running out of position after potting 13 reds with blacks. He made a 75 to go ahead, then Liang’s 61 made it 3-3.
The high scoring continued as breaks of 133 and 85 from Higgins gave him two of the next three frames to lead 5-4. In the tenth he missed a red to a top corner on 28 and Liang replied with 53. The frame came down to the colours and world number 15 Liang looked set to win it when he potted a long yellow to lead by 10 points, but he missed a short range green along the baulk cushion, and a grateful Higgins took green, brown, blue and pink to secure his progress.
Higgins at his press conference after the match
“I’m delighted with the way I hit the ball,” said 40-year-old Higgins. “I was thinking back to my match with Mark Allen in the first round here last year when I played really well and made three centuries but lost 6-4. It was a similar standard today and I’m just pleased to come out on the winning side. Liang can probably look back on the match and say he only missed a couple of balls and he lost 6-4.
“It’s just pleasing now to be able to come to every tournament and be able to play well and put up a good performance against the best players. In the previous couple of years I wasn’t able to do that and I was probably an easy draw for the others. I feel confident now that I can do some damage on the table.”
As for his meeting with Bingham, Higgins added: “It will be a great occasion on Friday night. Stuart will have a lot of family and friends there. If you can’t get up for that against the World Champion then you shouldn’t be playing.”
Liang said: “John played very well today – if I gave him the first chance, I always thought he would take it. He scored very heavily. I didn’t play badly but I just lost concentration a little bit. I was very relaxed and enjoyed the game. I will try very hard to be back here next year because I enjoyed the tournament.”