John Higgins blamed the suffocating Crucible pressure for his poor performance despite battling his way into the second round of the World Snooker Championship with a 10-7 win over China’s Tian Pengfei.
The four-times champion hit back from 7-4 behind to win six frames on the spin, belatedly finding his form in a match that twice went over its allotted schedule time by completing his victory with two consecutive centuries. It may be the 45-year-old’s 27th appearance at the Crucible but, despite his colossal experience, Higgins admitted the venue’s weight of history was still impossible to ignore.
Higgins said: “It’s this place that does it – I think I stopped breathing a few times out there. That’s what it does to you – the pressure can be that intense. It was a poor game by me and I’ve dodged a bullet there big time because Tian had enough chances to beat me. I’ve brought him down to my level and it’s a big relief.”
Higgins’s compatriot Anthony McGill proved he had no Crucible hangover from his agonising semi-final defeat eight months ago as he cruised into the second round with a 10-5 win over Ricky Walden. McGill’s previous appearance at the famous venue culminated in one of the most remarkable passages of play in snooker history as he lost his last-four decider to Kyren Wilson in a frame with a total combined score of 186.
The 30-year-old Scot declined an invitation by Eurosport to appear in a special programme about the frame in the buildup to this year’s tournament but insisted: “It didn’t hit me hard at all, and I was over it five minutes afterwards. I was asked [to appear in the programme] but I didn’t want to. I was over it, but that frame still cost me one hundred grand so I don’t really want to sit down and talk about it fondly.”
Resuming with a slender 5-4 advantage over his fellow former semi-finalist, McGill extended his lead with back-to-back breaks of 83 and 130 before a 98 from Walden reduced the deficit. But McGill responded to close out the match with three frames in a row, including two more half-centuries, to set up a last-eight meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“I’ll just try to play my own game,” said McGill. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who’s got the aura that Ronnie’s got – he’s the best ever and I’m really looking forward to it. I won’t approach the match any differently. I can only play as well as I can play, and if the other guy is too good then that’s fine.”
McGill’s conqueror in last year’s semi-final, Kyren Wilson, came through a battle with Gary Wilson, winning 10-8 after trailing 5-1. The victor won six frames in a row to lead 7-5 and held on. He will now fancy his chances of extending his fine Crucible record: he has reached at least the quarter-finals in the last five world championships.
Ding Junhui built a 5-4 overnight advantage over former champion Stuart Bingham, despite breaks of 131 and 129 helping Bingham establish a 3-1 lead. Ding, the world No 9 and runner-up in 2016, produced clearances of 105 and 86 to level the match, and nicked the ninth frame on a fluked final black.
Jack Lisowski, the No 14 seed, fought back from 3-1 down to fashion a 5-4 overnight advantage over the former finalist Ali Carter. The winner will face the N0 3 seed, Neil Robertson, in the second round.