Masters 2022: History-Making Higgins Books His Place In The Quarter-Finals

The Scot overcame Zhao Xintong to book a tantalising quarter-final showdown with old sparring partner Mark Williams
19:05, 10 Jan 2022

John Higgins made history when he walked out against reigning UK champion Zhao Xintong at the Masters on Monday afternoon – and the 46-year-old Scot celebrated in grand manner with a 6-2 victory at Alexandra Palace that sets up a quarter-final to savour against old sparring partner Mark Williams. 

Higgins, still ranked No6 in the world in his 30th season on tour as a professional, has now appeared in the prestigious invitation tournament exclusively reserved for the world’s elite top 16 players an astonishing 28 times, edging ahead of Steve Davis and Jimmy White to set a new record. 

Even more unlikely is that  - unlike the Nugget and the Whirlwind - Higgins’s run of appearances have come consecutively without a single break. And given that Higgins has won 31 ranking titles in all including four world championship successes at the Crucible, his trophy return at this event is by such lofty standards a little meagre. 

There have been two Masters titles for Higgins, the first in 1999 when he beat Ireland’s Ken Dohety 10-8 – and then one of the greatest finals the tournament has ever seen in 2006, the last match ever played at the old Wembley Conference Centre before it was knocked down. Higgins trailed Ronnie O’Sullivan 60-0 in the decider, but cleared with 64 to the black to win 10-9. 

On Monday afternoon Higgins knocked in breaks of 100, 104 and 78 in seeing off emerging Chinese talent Zhao. And after spending the weekend with his family taking in London shows including ‘Les Miserables’, Higgins is now dreaming a dream of lifting the trophy for the first time in 16 years. 

With at least one day more assured, the next test is a quarter-final clash to savor against fellow ‘Class of 1992’ member and old rival Williams on Thursday. And a newly slimmed-down Higgins, hoping to make it an Ally Pally Scottish double after Peter Wright’s triumph in the darts, said: “I knew the 28 times was going to be a record. 

“Ronnie O’Sullivan has taken a couple off and if not he could have had 29, but it is a good feeling to have that and makes me very proud. I still want to be competing in these events, you can’t beat being out there and this is the best arena out there currently. 

“It is the place to play, and should motivate players to get into the top 16 and sample it. I didn’t feel great about it before as I knew I hadn’t played much and then came down early with the family to spend time in London. 

“We have seen a couple of shows, ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ – the kids love those and we had a brilliant weekend before this. And I was having such a good time with them and had played so much before Christmas getting to four finals I just turned up and did an hour’s practice here. 

“I am delighted to beat Zhao, he is a new superstar of the game even if he didn’t play his best today. And it is great to be back here at Ally Pally and being able to fit in that chair properly. The crowd and the atmosphere was amazing. The Wembley Conference Centre was special against the big boys, but here it is every match. 

“I watched a fair bit of the darts from here and it was fantastic that Peter Wright won, the all-Scottish semi-final with Gary Anderson was great. So hopefully I can do the same in this. 

“But if I hear anyone singing ‘Scotland get battered wherever they go’ at the snooker I suppose I’d have to suck it up and then try and ram it down the crowd’s throats. I have had it in London.” 

The watching Stephen Hendry, a six-time Masters champion, said: “It was men against boys out there. And Zhao must realise that is the level he has to get to for continued success in the game.” 

World No9 Zhao, 24, said: “John played really well, his safety and long potting was perfect and he deserved to win. When I made the 128 in frame two that gave me hope, but he controlled the game. 

“I felt a bit of pressure at my first Masters, but I learned a lot today and showed me what to practice. I would love to be back here next year.” 

Higgins never really looked in trouble against his young opponent. Whether Zhao ends up playing in this event another 27 times is doubtful, but he will have learned so much from yesterday’s masterclass. 

The Scot kept him at arm’s length and in the long grass at the baulk end of the table for much of the contest – and then pounced when the big moments came. There were century breaks for Higgins – a run of 100 in the opening frame, and then a 104 to extend his advantage to 4-1. 

And in the end Zhao’s superb break of 128 to level at 1-1 proved his highlight as he the 24-year-old was simply unable to keep Higgins at bay.

Higgins is 5/1 to win the 2022 Masters with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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