JOHN Higgins admitted to a sense of relief after coming through a tight second-round match at the UK Snooker Championship.
The 39-year-old was ahead all the way against Jamie Cope at the York Barbican, and edged into the next round 6-4 after a costly miss by Cope in the tenth frame.
The former world No.1 and four-time world champion has won this competition three times, most recently in 2010, and now meets 2003 champion Matthew Stevens in a stellar round-three clash.
Higgins is hoping his confidence can continue to grow after struggling in recent years. “I’ve been missing clearances and falling short recently, whereas the three or four years before that I was able to come through in those situations,” said Higgins. “Hopefully, I can continue to do that into the second week here.
“The match was scrappy from the word go. I started off well but, after that, I fell away. I’m really relieved to come through because it looked like it was going to go 5-5 and my record in deciders in recent years has been pathetic, to say the least.
“But Jamie missed and I managed to get in and do a good clearance.
“Matthew and I have played many times in world semi-finals and other finals. It is always great to play with someone like him, so it should be a great match.”
Higgins is now undefeated against world No.53 Cope in five meetings, and his record against Stevens reads almost as good, with seven wins out of eight.
Higgins has credited another Scottish great for helping him regain his touch, although he was less impressed with the standard of the facilities in York.
“Graeme Dott noticed that I was pulling the cue back far too far. He didn’t tell me, so I guess he doesn’t like me very much, but I can thank Marcus Campbell who did,” said Higgins. “It is maybe just a little thing when I say too far, but when it was said to me, I knew I was losing control and my timing wasn’t correct. I thought that improved here and I am really pleased with that.
“You are just looking for the little margins that can give you the kick start, so I will be back to the practice table with Marcus.
“The tables here are difficult, uncontrollable at times, which is really bad as it can make you start missing easy balls because you are not really sure how the cushions are going to react. To tell the truth, there are so many tables we play on the table fitters have an impossible job.
“They don’t have enough hours in the day to prepare all the tables we need for 128 players here.
“I think that is one of the points where the top players are unhappy here. It is alright saying 128 players in a tournament, but the conditions have got to be good and my table was atrocious.
“I know there have been complaints over the last few days, but too often they fall on deaf ears. I think the number of players entering here should be limited, but I don’t think it is going to happen.”
Meanwhile, there was more good news for Scottish snooker as Glasgow’s Fraser Patrick continued his surge up the rankings and claimed the scalp of world No.22, Ryan Day.
The 29-year-old, himself ranked 84th, has been on scintillating form of late, making it to at least the third round in each of the last three European Tour events, playing himself into contention to secure a two-year Tour card as a result.
The good times continued in York as Patrick beat out Welshman Day 6-4 with stunning breaks of 139 and 73 in frames five and six respectively proving to be the turning point as he stormed into the third round.
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