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Page last updated at 22:07 GMT, Monday, 4 May 2009 23:07 UK

Humble Higgins charms Crucible

John Higgins
Higgins endured a rollercoaster ride to claim his third world title

By Bryn Palmer

So Ronnie O'Sullivan was right.

The world number one predicted either he or John Higgins would win the World Championship if one of them found top form.

'The Rocket' may have failed to hit the heights of which perhaps only he is capable, but his logic was sound enough.

As the only other player who O'Sullivan felt was capable of 'finding that extra gear when needed', Higgins proved an indomitable force as he equalled O'Sullivan's tally of three Crucible titles.

When the pressure was at its greatest, and the moment demanded it, the 33-year-old Scot dug deep into his extraordinary reserves of nerve and stamina, and found that precious gear.

He is a fantastic player, a great tactician. You can never write him off whatever the circumstances

Six-time world champion Ray Reardon on Higgins

In the Crucible's 'marathon of the mind' - as veteran commentator Clive Everton likes to call the 17 day-long event - Higgins may have hit the wall a few times, but always found a way to get over it.

His final-frame victories over Jamie Cope, in the second round, and Mark Selby, in the quarter-finals, were stand-out highlights of a stellar tournament that featured a record 83 century breaks, smashing the previous best of 68, to which Higgins contributed 11.

His semi-final win over Mark Allen showed both his awesome scoring power, as he won 11 out of 12 frames to take a 13-3 lead, and his steely determination not to fold after the Northern Irish youngster's scintillating recovery to 15-12.

It appeared those feats of endurance might be catching up with him early on in the final as Shaun Murphy won four frames in a row from 3-0 down in the first session.

But Higgins' obduracy, tactical know-how and consistency among the balls once again prevailed against a slightly under-par Murphy.

606: DEBATE
gallantrabbit

At various times over the past 17 days, we have heard O'Sullivan referred to as the greatest natural talent the game has ever seen, Australian Neil Robertson as possibly the biggest shot-maker, and losing finalist Murphy as the best ball striker in the game.

But Higgins is repeatedly labelled the 'best match-player in the game', or as Steve Davis describes him, "possibly the most complete all-round player the game has ever seen".

High praise indeed from a legend who owns three more world titles than Higgins currently possesses.

His reasoning is the Scot invariably plays the right shot at the right time, taking into account the match situation, the score in the frame, the pressure of the moment.

But despite the accolades that come his way, there is an endearing humility and vulnerability about Higgins, the oldest world champion since Dennis Taylor's epic triumph in 1985 aged 36.

He is not one for blowing his own trumpet, and readily concedes he is as prone to the anxiety and nerves that accompany this event as any other player.

Nobody is more astute tactically. Nobody tries harder. Nobody is a better match player

John Parrott on Higgins

He admitted he was lucky to be 5-4 up after the opening session of his 10-5 first-round victory over Michael Holt, having trailed 4-2 early on. "I need to get better," was his mantra then.

Two frames down to Cope with three frames to play, the drama of his fightback was so intense two spectators required medical attention after fainting in the stifling Crucible atmosphere.

On the first occasion, after the players briefly left the arena, Higgins re-emerged to win the frame and level the match at 12-12.

He was facing a devilishly difficult red in the final frame when another observer keeled over, but he returned to the arena to calmly make the pot, the platform for a match-winning 80 break.

Higgins was never ahead in the final session against Selby until the last of their 25 frames, and openly wondered, "I don't know how I won that match" after a victory he called "probably my best ever".

After those epic 13-12 victories, his concentration waned in his semi-final with Allen. He was so far ahead he admitted to contemplating the prospect of wrapping it up with a session to spare so he could watch his beloved Celtic play on Saturday.

But when his opponent's comeback gathered seemingly irresistable force, Higgins was reduced to a "bag of nerves".

"I had some crazy thoughts going on in my head about coming into the press conference having lost 17-16 and announcing my retirement," he revealed later.

"If I'd have lost, I don't know what I'd have done. I'd have had no heart to practise for a new season."

As it is, once he has finished celebrating with the family who rushed into his arms at the conclusion of the final, he can return to the green baize with the contented air of a man who revealed the full extent of his considerable talent on the biggest stage of the all.

'The Wizard of Wishaw' has once again left The Crucible spellbound.



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see also
Higgins claims third world crown
04 May 09 |  Snooker
Higgins downs Allen to make final
02 May 09 |  Snooker
Epic win sees Higgins into semis
29 Apr 09 |  Snooker
Higgins edges out Cope in classic
27 Apr 09 |  Snooker
Higgins and Maguire ease through
23 Apr 09 |  Snooker
Higgins or me to win - O'Sullivan
10 Apr 09 |  Snooker
Crucible photos
26 Apr 09 |  Snooker
World Championship draw
25 Apr 09 |  Snooker


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