Alan McManus became the oldest Crucible semi-finalist for 31 years with a stunning 13-11 victory over John Higgins at the Betfred World Championship.
World number 30 McManus came from 11-9 down against four time champion Higgins to win the last four frames with some brilliant snooker. At the age of 45, McManus has got to the last four in Sheffield for the first time since 1993, when George Bush Senior was President of the USA and – appropriately – Young At Heart by the Bluebells was top of the charts.
Glasgow’s McManus is the oldest player to get to the semi-finals since Ray Reardon who was 52 in 1985. He will now face Ding Junhui over 33 frames on Thursday, Friday and Saturday for a place in the final, where the famous trophy and £330,000 top prize will be at stake. That semi will see two players who came through the qualifying rounds go head-to-head, making a nonsense of the theory that those having to win three matches at Ponds Forge would be too tired to be competitive in the final stages.
It’s a heart-warming tale for a player who failed to even qualify for the Crucible between 2007 and 2012 as his career appeared to be on the wane. He is enjoying an impressive Indian summer and tonight’s victory is perhaps his best since beating Stephen Hendry in the 1994 Masters final. It was reminiscent of Steve Davis’ defeat of Higgins – also by a 13-11 scoreline – to reach the quarter-finals at the age of 52 in 2010.
Wizard of Wishaw Higgins may feel that he has squandered a chance to win a fifth world crown, although in the closing stages there was little he could do against an inspired opponent.
Higgins led 9-7 going into the final session and shared the first four frames tonight, making breaks of 53 and 69 while McManus made 48 and 88, to leave the score at 11-9. Two-time ranking event winner McManus then dominated after the interval, with Higgins scoring just 24 points in the last four frames. Runs of 71, 52 and 128 put McManus 12-11 ahead.
Higgins had first chance in the next frame but made just 4 before missing a red to a top corner, allowing McManus to compile a fine break of 60. Higgins had one more chance but missed a thin-cut red to a centre pocket, which proved his last shot as McManus added 26 for victory.
“John didn’t bring his A-game, which I was fully expecting, he dropped his level quite a bit which helped me,” said McManus. “I felt I was playing catch up most of the match, I felt if I could get on terms I fancied winning.
“At times I felt really good, if I can take that into the next few days hopefully I can give Ding a few issues, but I’ll have to tighten up on a couple of things.
“Obviously you dare to dream, every snooker player worth their salt, and some not worth a pinch, dream of winning the silverware out there, and I’m no different. I’m a realist, I know it’ll be incredibly difficult, but I’m one of the four guys still left here, it’ll be as difficult as I want to make it.
“I never thought my best days were completely gone, I’m still pretty dedicated to the game and I love playing in big arenas. Some players play awesome with no eyes on them, I prefer eyes and scrutiny, and this is a special place.
“At one stage this morning the wall went up and I went and stood against the other table. It was like a church out there, the place was jam packed and I felt dead happy. No one knows when these days might come again, I enjoy these bricks and this building.
“It’ll be my biggest thrill in a long, long time to go and play Ding out there. I feel relaxed, I’m not the kind of guy to get overawed by the occasion.
“I’ll need to get a hotel now because I’m due to check out in the morning, so they better have rooms!”
Higgins said: “I’m gutted obviously. The Crucible brings intense pressure, I cracked and Alan didn’t. I’ve nothing but admiration for him, he probably played his best stuff at the end. I missed a couple of shocking balls, that’s what this place can do to you.
“I know how good a player he is, he’s getting a little bit older but he looks as good as ever out there. I nicked a couple of big frames, to go 9-7 in front, and then 11-9 in front. It could have knocked the stuffing out of him but he came out really well and he put the pressure on me.
“I think the tournament could be made for Alan. He’s such a tough player to play against, he’s got a great all round safety game, and when you combine that with scoring, he’s got a big chance, I hope he wins it.”