John Higgins and Mark Williams both came through classic Crucible matches on Wednesday to ensure that all three members of the famous ‘Class of 1992’ will feature in the Betfred World Championship semi-finals for the first time in 23 years.
The one about Scot Higgins, Welshman Williams and Englishman Ronnie O’Sullivan has been no joke for the rest for the past three decades as they have racked up between them 13 world titles, a grand total of 93 ranking-tournament wins.
Throw the ‘Juddernaut’ Judd Trump, another former champion and the best player of the last five years, into the last-four mix and it is perhaps the most attractive line-up even this iconic theatre with its rich history of drama and star performers has ever hosted.
Four-time winner Higgins, 46, was the last to make it and complete the set – edging past the quickfire Jack Lisowski 13-12 late in the evening in a brilliant encounter that saw ‘Jackpot’ get his nose in front at 12-11 – only to be undone by two truly vintage breaks of 105 and 72 from the Wizard of Wishaw to get over the line.
For Lisowski, coming immediately after beating player of the season Neil Robertson also in a decider, even in defeat it marked some sort of coming-of-age, having stood up and gone toe to toe with two of the game’s fiercest competitors in successive rounds on the biggest stage.
Higgins, who will play O’Sullivan for a 77th time in all competitions, said: “I am delighted because I don’t know where the two frames came from at the end. Having been ahead most of the day I was feeling that Jack might get me on the line. There were tears at the end.
“I was beginning to see him against Ronnie in the semi-final, and that people might not need an old duffer like me there. I was protecting a lead and you can’t do that, you have to smash your way over the line. It is a great semi-final line-up, and should be a treat for the next five days. Playing Ronnie on the single table will be special.”
Lisowski answered plenty of critics at this event, with pundits lining up in recent years to slam him for occasional errors and lapses in concentration. But after another terrific display, he said: “I am extremely disappointed to have lost but I have pushed John all the way.
“He made an amazing break to get level at 12-12 and then a solid decider. I gave it everything and was hanging on at times and don’t really know how I got ahead at 12-11.”
Earlier the 47-year-old Williams held off Yan Bingtao 13-11 in a rollercoaster match that saw the Welshman win the first session 6-2, then feel lucky to have only lost the second session by the same margin and stand level at 8-8 going into the decisive final frames.
Like Higgins, the three-time winner pulled out two superb breaks under pressure at the end to become the oldest player into the Crucible semi-finals since fellow Welshman Ray Reardon 37 years ago.
World No8 Williams, who will take Judd Trump for a place in the final, said: “It was a great match to be involved in. 6-2 may have seemed like a big lead at the beginning but in this format it is nothing really – but to make those two breaks at the end under extreme pressure was really pleasing.
“I feel I deserved that one because a lot of the close ones in big matches this season have gone against me like at the Masters, so now I’ve got one. I have played all season as well as I have for a while. Playing the two sessions on Tuesday I was flagging, but the one-table will be superb.
“I can’t really believe I am still competing with the big boys and getting to semi-finals and nicking the odd title. My boy Kian missed it though – I was so bad on Tuesday night he went home and said he would rather be at school, so he missed it.”
‘Juddernaut’ Trump went on the rampage against Stuart Bingham – winning the last eight frames on the trot to complete a 13-8 win after trailing 8-5.
Trump said: “In the end it was comfortable, but at one stage in the morning I was really struggling and thought he might even beat me before the final session. To get out at 8-8 felt amazing, and the black off the spot he missed at 8-5 ahead gave me a lot of confidence. So he will be disappointed because he was in total control.
“With this line-up you don’t want to be sat at home, you want to be part of it. I feel like I have got a free shot, others have been playing better than me but hopefully the stage will bring out my best against Mark.”
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