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Wizard Storms To Newport Triumph

John Higgins won his first ranking event of the season, and the 21st of his career, with an emphatic 9-4 defeat of Ali Carter in the final of the totesport.com Welsh Open.

With a supreme display at the Newport Centre, Wizard of Wishaw Higgins made two centuries and eight more breaks over 50 as he coasted to the trophy and £35,000 first prize. It’s the second time he has won this title, and the first since 2000 when he beat Stephen Lee in the final in Cardiff.

Higgins has been by far the most consistent player in the world over the past year, reaching at least the semi-finals of the last six consecutive ranking events. But it had been a source of frustration for the 34-year-old that only one of those had been converted into a title; the Betfred.com World Championship in May.

After defeat since then in the semis of the Roewe Shanghai Masters and the Grand Prix and in the final of the Pukka Pies UK Championship, this time he goes home with the trophy. Higgins is now just one short of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s mark of 22 ranking titles, though still well behind Stephen Hendry (36) and Steve Davis (28).

At present Higgins seems to have the Indian sign over O’Sullivan, having knocked him out of the last three ranking events, and he seems certain to take over from the Rocket as official World No 1 at the end of the season. Higgins only needs to match O’Sullivan’s performance at next month’s China Open in Beijing to guarantee the top spot before the campaign’s Crucible conclusion. Regardless of the ranking permutations, if he maintains his current form then Higgins will take some stopping at Sheffield.

Carter beat Joe Swail 9-5 in the final here last year and was aiming to become the only player other than Steve Davis (1994/95) and O’Sullivan (2004/05) to retain this title, as well as the first player to win any ranking event in consecutive years since O’Sullivan triumphed here five years ago.

His chances evaporated in the early stages today as he went 5-0 down, and although the Tiptree cueman battled gamely, particularly in making a brilliant clearance to draw to within three frames at 7-4, he always seemed likely to finish with the runner-up prize of £17,500.

Carter is up to fourth in the latest rankings, and after a year without so much as a semi-final appearance, a period which included the joyous but disruptive event of becoming a father, he can look ahead with refreshed confidence.

• Frame nine: Carter gets the first chance among the balls and makes 33 before missing a black off its spot. In typical clinical style, Higgins clears up with 72 to go 7-2 ahead (72-33).

• Frame ten: An attempted long red from Higgins just misses its target, leaving Carter in to score 60 before running out of position. The Englishman gets another chance and adds 25 to close the gap (0-90).

• Frame 11: Higgins pots eight reds with blacks, and senses the chances of a 147. But he rattles the ninth red in the jaws of a top corner, playing with pace in trying to retain position on the black. Carter clears superbly with 73, pumping his fist as he gets to 7-4 (72-73).

• Frame 12: After Higgins builds a 57-0 lead, Carter flukes a red and edges within 13 points. Higgins lays a snooker on the last red, and from the consequent chance, rolls the red into a baulk corner and clears to the brown for an 8-4 advantage at the mid-session interval.

• Frame 13: A cracking mid-range red sets Higgins up, and he is composure personified as he knocks in 76 for victory (76-1).