Higgins closing in on second-round meeting with impressive Jack Lisowski
John Higgins held off a spirited performance from Thepchaiya Un-Nooh to win 10-7 and reach the second round of the Betfred World Championship.
The four-time World Champion Higgins went on a run to the final last year and had looked set for fifth Crucible crown when he led Mark Selby 10-4. However, Selby charged back to inflict a heartbreaking 18-15 defeat on the Scot.
There has been no let-up from Higgins this season, he’s seen his ranking title tally rise to 30 with victories at the Indian Open and the Welsh Open and he will be a strong contender for the £425,000 top prize this week.
Crucible debutant Un-Nooh made himself the fifth player from Thailand to compete in the final stages of the World Championship by qualifying. The charismatic potter from Bangkok is one of the most exciting players to watch on the World Snooker Tour. He plays at breakneck speed with an average shot-time of 17.22 seconds, only Ronnie O’Sullivan plays quicker.
The match provided the fireworks that many predicted it would. Both players threatened to fire in the first maximum break at the Crucible since Stephen Hendry’s 147 in 2012. Higgins was first to attempt the magic break, potting 13 reds with 13 blacks before breaking down on 104. That came in an opening session which saw the Scot establish a 6-3 advantage.
When they returned the pair came storming out of the blocks, Un-Nooh composed a quick-fire break of 121 to reduce his deficit and Higgins responded with a contribution of 81 to make it 7-4. It was then the Thai’s turn to have a go at snooker’s perfect run.
Un-Nooh famously missed final blacks for 147 breaks on two occasions in the 2015/16 season, at the UK Championship and World Championship qualifying. Today he potted 14 reds and 14 blacks before missing the final red to the top left corner with his score at 112.
The Thai continued to impose himself on the match, closing the gap to 7-6 and then spurning an opportunity to restore parity. Higgins punished him with a break of 77 to move 8-6 ahead and eventually emerged a 10-7 victor.
Higgins will now face another quickfire opponent in the next round when he meets world number 30 Jack Lisowski.
Higgins said: “Thepchaiya maybe goes for one shot too many, but he’s brilliant to watch and I’m delighted to win 10-7. I knew he would hit me with maybe three frames where I wouldn’t get a shot. Tonight at 7-6, he took his eye off a red when he had me in all sorts of bother. I let him in but he missed the red when all the balls were there. I managed to get a two frame advantage again and that settled me down.
“I was disappointed not to make the 147. It’s difficult out there to make a maximum break, the pressure is pretty intense. I would love to do one here at the Crucible, it would be an amazing feeling. That’s something I’ll try and do before my career finishes.
“It’s as if I’m playing an upgrade on Thepchaiya in the next round. A few years ago Jack Lisowski was maybe going for a shot too many, but he’s cut that out now. I believe he practices a lot with Judd Trump and Ronnie O’Sullivan, so if you don’t round your game to compete with those guys on the practice table, all you’ll be doing is picking balls out of pockets. He’s obviously learning off those guys, and he’s a totally different player now. He beat me over in China recently where he played great, and he’s another one who makes the game look ridiculously easy. But I’ll enjoy the game and look forward to it.”
Afterwards Un-Nooh was disappointed to once again miss out on a maximum break prize, with potentially £50,000 up for grabs for a maximum break.
“I was thinking about the big prize money! I wanted to show my supporters that I could do it, but I missed the last red. It was really hard to get back for the black and I missed it,” said Un-Nooh. “It annoyed me, it got on my mind. The last blacks from two years ago still haunt me. The thoughts of those two black balls came into my mind, so I missed the red.”