Higgins wins Welsh title
John Higgins successfully defended his Welsh Open crown with a 9-6 victory over fellow Scot Stephen Maguire in the final at the Newport Centre.
Maguire – searching for a first ranking title since winning the China Open in 2008 – produced a slick, high-calibre potting display in the final’s afternoon session, but the Glaswegian’s compatriot and close friend, Higgins, simply blew him away in the evening.
Trailing 5-3 ahead of the evening session, Higgins won four consecutive frames to stamp his authority on the tournament he has won twice before, as Maguire’s rhythm and confidence crumbled.
Maguire responded after the mid-interval session – notching a well-crafted break of 75 to fight back to 7-6 – but another clinical display in the 14th frame put Higgins one –frame away from winning the Welsh Open title for a third time.
A break of 72 in the final frame looked to have secured a 23rd ranking title for the Wizard of Wishaw, but Maguire fought back with two snookers drag the frame back into contention.
The Glaswegian produced stunning safety after stunning safety, but finally capitulated when a careless cue ball dropped into the top-right pocket, allowing Higgins to seal the victory with a simple brown.
“I think I lost [the final] in the first session,” a disappointed Maguire said after the match. “If you have a player like John down, you have to stamp on them. It’s hard to take.”
The former UK Champion was quick to pay tribute to his friend and rival, however, saying “all credit to him… he just kept clearing up!”
“There’s no good knocking in 40s and 50s against John, you needs 70s or 80s or else you know he’s going to come back at you.”
Higgins was competing in his first tournament since the death of his father, John ‘Hector’ Higgins Snr, in early February, and the Champion had to choke back the tears after the final’s nail-biting climax.
“My dad was here last year, and we had a great party. I’m sure we’ll have a great party tonight with Stephen,” he said. “We’ll drink a toast to Hector in the sky.”
Maguire came out guns blazing at the Newport Centre, quickly notching an opening break of 59 on his way to the first frame, after a failed long pot from Higgins.
The world number one had to wait until the second frame to get a single frame on the board, by which point Maguire had already established a 53-0 lead with a metronomic potting display.
Higgins looked set to pinch the frame, but missed an easy red to the left-middle pocket to hand Maguire a gilt-edged chance to go two frames ahead.
The Glaswegian potted the red with a classy double, and went on to seal the frame with a confident display of aggressive potting.
After spending the majority of the opening two frames rooted to his seat, Higgins finally showed the capacity Newport crowd what he’s capable of with a top-quality break of 120.
Maguire responded with a break of 89 to restore his two-frame lead going into the mid-session interval, and looked odds on to go 4-1 up in the next frame – breaking to 58.
However, a rare mistake from Maguire saw a simple red to the bottom- left corner rattle the jaws of the pocket and stay out, and Higgins punished the 29-year-old by clearing the table with a break of 72 and stealing the frame.
Another tremendous break from Maguire saw the Glaswegian notch 76 to go 4-2 up in the match, and former UK Champion edged the next frame thanks to some more sensational long-potting.
At 5-2 down, Higgins desperately needed a response in the final game of the first session, but another missed red looked to have given Maguire another frame-winning chance right at the start of the eighth frame.
Maguire failed to make the most of the opportunity, however, missing a simple red to the bottom-right corner pocket and allowing Higgins back to the table.
The defending champion finally found some rhythm right at the death of the opening session, and a break of 70 ensured that Higgins would only trail by five frames to three going into the deciding evening session.
Despite the break coming at the worst possible time for Higgins, he returned for the second session in clinical form.
The world number one punished poor errors from Maguire in the ninth and 10th frames – snatching both from underneath the challenger’s nose with a confidence clearly missing in the opening session.
Maguire opened the 11th frame with a break of 44, but Higgins again came back – knocking in long reds for fun to take the frame and the lead for the first time in the match at 6-5.
The Glaswegian needed an instant response, but Higgins kept him pinned firmly in his seat in the 12th frame.
The reds flew into the pockets as Higgins prowled around the table looking every bit the defending champion – breaking to 75 for a two-frame lead.
Maguire finally stopped the rot in the 13th – ending a run of four straight frames for Higgins with a 75 break of his own – but Higgins responded with breaks of 66 and 72 in the final two frames, after some more straight-forward misses from Maguire whose fine form in the afternoon session was a distant memory by the end of the evening.
"It's getting tougher to win," Higgins added, before collecting his trophy. "You rarely see a bad final nowadays, and today was a great final."