Higgins relieved after 'dodging a bullet' in first-round tie

·3 min read
The four-time champion came from behind to beat Tian Pengfei at The Crucible
The four-time champion came from behind to beat Tian Pengfei at The Crucible

FOUR-TIME world champion John Higgins was relieved to ‘dodge a bullet’ by narrowly avoiding a shock first-round exit from the World Snooker Championship at the hands of Tian Pengfei, writes Luke Baker.

Higgins, whose last world title came in 2011, saw an overnight 4-3 deficit extended to 7-4 by the Chinese world No.52 before he dug deep to claim five frames on the spin, including a sublime break of 127, to move within one of victory at 9-7.

However, the duo were then pulled off the table before being able to complete the match but returned following the conclusion of the evening session and the Scot wrapped up a 10-7 victory with a brilliant break of 135.

Next up is three-time champion Mark Williams or the talented Sam Craigie but Higgins was just thankful to overcome Tian after some moments where he thought his tournament was over at the first hurdle.

“I’m very relieved,” admitted Higgins. “At 7-4 behind I was fearing the worst. I couldn’t pot a ball and I was struggling to breathe at one point.

“I’m not sure what was happening – it’s just the pressure, which this theatre sometimes does to you. I wanted to make it difficult for Tian but at that point [7-4] I wasn’t making it difficult at all – I was giving him chance after chance.

“When he was struggling to take chances and get over the line with frames, that gave me a little bit of confidence though. It was good to get through in the end.

“It’s really tough – it’s the toughest arena we play in. When it’s going good, it’s a great place but when it’s going badly, it’s soul-destroying.

“I’ve dodged a bullet there. Tian had more than enough chances to beat me.”

Fans are back at a snooker tournament for the first time since the conclusion of last year’s World Championship in August 2020, although the sport’s organisers were forced to defend a Crucible attendance crisis, with only 83 tickets sold for Monday morning’s session.

The World Championship is being used as a pilot event for supporters to return safely to sporting arenas – with the 980-seat venue permitted to be 33% full for first-round matches, and that percentage increasing throughout the tournament.

But restrictions on hotel and restaurant use, as well as the stringent Covid safety measures in place to even enter the venue, appear to have put fans off.

And Higgins admits that playing in front of spectators once more took some getting used to, although he is relishing increased attendances as the event rolls on.

“It was difficult – my concentration was all over the place at times and you’re noticing every little thing the public are doing, when they’re moving in their chair,” he said.

“It was off-putting because you’re not concentrating but when you’re concentrating properly, you don’t notice those things.

“It’s brilliant to have them back and hopefully as the tournament progresses, more and more people can come back.”

Watch the World Snooker Championship live on Eurosport and Eurosport app from April 17- May 3