John Higgins named his 12BET.com UK Championship victory as the greatest moment of his career after an extraordinary 10-9 victory over Mark Williams in the final.
Higgins came from 9-5 down to beat Williams in a classic content to win the UK title for the third time – becoming only the fourth player, after Steve Davis (six), Stephen Hendry (five) and Ronnie O’Sullivan (four) to win snooker’s second biggest ranking tournament more than twice.
The manner of victory was astonishing as the match looked over when Williams led 9-7, among the balls on a break of 61. But Higgins miraculously fought back to win that frame, then edged a nerve-racking decider with inspired pots on the final brown and blue.
What really makes the taste of success sweet for Higgins, though, is the context. This was his first tournament on British soil since his six-month ban from snooker and he was determined to prove that he still has the class, composure and winning instinct to thrive on the big occasion. More significantly, his father John Snr, a popular figure on the snooker circuit who has supported the three-times World Champion throughout his career, is seriously ill back in Wishaw and wasn’t able to make it to Telford.
“Maybe it was fate. This is for my dad and all my family,” said the 35-year-old Scot after bolstering his reputation as one of snooker’s greatest ever competitors. “I just tried to stay focussed all week here and go about things my own way. I was determined not to let anything stop me from winning it. I could have been stopped by a great performance from Mark so I’m really proud.
“It means everything to me to be back playing and winning again. It’s the stuff dreams are made of and my finest hour.”
Higgins pocketed a cheque for £100,000 after winning his 22nd ranking title, bringing him level with O’Sullivan and third on the all-time list. Having won an EPTC event last month and reached the final of another, he has won 18 of his last 19 matches. He has also regained the World No 1 ranking, moving ahead of Neil Robertson.
A weaker character than Williams may have been devastated by the manner of defeat, but the 35-year-old Welshman, who was also denied a third UK title as well as a first ranking title on British soil since the 2003 LG Cup, is made of strong stuff. He can console himself with a £46,000 prize, a jump to No 3 in the world rankings, and the knowledge that he is still capable of battling his way to major finals, even when not playing at his best.
Williams started the evening session 6-2 ahead and soon extended his lead with a top run of 40. Higgins reduced his arrears with a break of 90, then came from 43-0 down to add the next with a superb 94 clearance. A break of 70 saw Williams restore his four-frame cushion, before Higgins replied with the first century of the match, a 105, to pull it back to 8-5.
Higgins had a chance to win the next but missed an easy pink on 15 and Williams added the points he needed to go four up with five to play. Then came the fight-back as Higgins dominated the next with a top run of 45 then rolled in a 76 to close to 9-7.
Frame 18 proved crucial as Williams built a fine 61 before wobbling a close range red in the jaws of a top corner. Higgins made 40 then rattled the last red with the rest – fortunate to see it run safe. After a safety exchange, Williams potted the red and decided to make sure of the black, putting him 29 points ahead with 27 remaining. Higgins forced a snooker, and saw his opponent, attempting a swerve escape, miss the yellow and go in-off. Higgins cleared and suddenly destiny seemed to be on his side. A break of 52 made it 9-9.
Williams had the first chance in the decider but could only make 13 before leaving a red in the jaws of a baulk corner. Higgins took advantage with 66, before getting a kick on the black then missing a mid-range match-ball red. Williams still had a chance to steal the glory, but after clearing to the colours, he was unlucky to leave the brown safe after nudging it away from the pink.
A tactical battle followed with the title up for grabs. Higgins, 20 points ahead, seized the moment and doubled the brown the length of the table, then added a stunning long blue before punching the air in delight.
“At 9-5 I had been totally outplayed,” added Higgins. “I had a feeling that Mark would play his best today, and he was dictating the match. I never give up but I thought it was a mountain to climb. Even when I got to 9-7, he was still looking calm and collected.
“He should have played for the yellow when he potted the black in that frame. I did something similar against Nigel Bond in the last frame of the 1996 British Open final, I potted a red to leave him needing snookers, but didn’t play for position on the black, and ended up losing. I’ve never forgotten that shot, and Mark will never forget his.
“Even at 9-9 I was thinking that he’s the type of player who will not wilt. I thought he was going to clear up because he’s got that in his locker, and if he’d got on the brown he would have done.”
Williams concurred: “The only shot I regret is not playing to get on the yellow when I potted the black at 9-7. That came back to haunt me and after that I knew I was struggling to win. I was a bit unlucky that I couldn’t pot the brown in the last frame, but I’ve got no complaints.
“It was the best match I’ve played this week – but I lost to the player of the tournament. I had a chance to nick it but threw it away.”