Noppon Saengkham is out to make up for lost time after testing positive for Covid-19 wrecked his World Championship hopes in April.
The Thai player had not played in a tournament since March after contracting the virus forced him to miss the Crucible, but returned in style as breaks of 108 and 114 helped him recover from 1-0 behind to complete a 3-1 win over four-times world champion John Higgins in their Championship League Group 9 decider.
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Both men had six points heading into their final encounter with Higgins completing two 3-0 wins over Soheil Vahedi and Igor Figueiredo respectively and Saengkham triumphant by two 3-1 scorelines over the same opponents at the Morningside Arena in Leicester.
Higgins only needed a 2-2 draw to secure his progress, but was forced to settle for second best as the world number 44 Saengkham showed his class under pressure to complete his campaign undefeated on nine points, three clear of Higgins, who produced a magical 130 in his victory over Figueiredo.
“My last match in an event was in March, I practiced very hard, fifteen hours a day," explained Saengkham, who takes his place in the last 32 of the season's first ranking event.
"I felt very bad, just sleeping in my bed and seeing everybody playing in the World Championship. I was so upset because I worked very hard every day. I will try my very best this season. I’m very hungry.
The last season I didn’t play well, and I stayed here eleven months and I couldn’t go home. Just for a few months, I could go home for a couple of months. I practiced very hard, and I tried to enjoy it. I am so happy I don’t know why.
“In my last match, I didn’t think about the win. I just wanted to pot every ball. I played very good today and I am very happy.”
In the day's other action, Cao Yupeng, back from his suspension for match-fixing in 2018, won Group 26 with 3-0 wins over Steven Hallworth and Gary Wilson respectively before overcoming James Cahill 3-1 to end his day unbeaten on nine points.
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