John Higgins battles back to take lead

Alan McManus plays a shot as fellow Scot John Higgins watches on at the Crucible yesterday. Picture: Getty
Alan McManus plays a shot as fellow Scot John Higgins watches on at the Crucible yesterday. Picture: Getty
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Alan McManus is convinced that fellow Scot John Higgins could have seven World Championship titles to his name by the time he retires but is in good shape to stop him 
winning the fifth of those this year with their quarter-final finely poised.

The two old warriors traded blows at the Betfred World Snooker Championship yesterday afternoon with Higgins leading 5-3 following the opening session of the last-eight clash.

Thirteen frames is the target for victory and the duo will play to a finish across two sessions today at Sheffield’s iconic Crucible Theatre – the first of those starting 
at 10am.

Higgins is one of the greatest snooker players of all-time – having held the world title on four occasions – and with the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Neil Robertson and Judd Trump having already been knocked out of this year’s Championship, the 40-year-old is among the favourites again.

To do so he must come through his tartan tussle with McManus, who knows he is second favourite in the quarter-final but relishing the tag.

“I’ll be underdog and that suits me,” said McManus in the build-up to the match. “It would be nice to play John and be competitive – that’s the main reason that I’m here.

“What I’ve seen of him so far in the tournament, he has been really on the ball and really good. His long game looks on point, he is scoring well and it’s everything you expect from John Higgins.

“ I’ve said all along that John will be a big threat in this tournament and so it has proved.

“He’s fully capable of winning it this year and he could even go on and win it seven times – that’s how good he is.

“There are no weaknesses in his game and he doesn’t have to play his best stuff to win. But when he is playing his best he’s one of the best two or three players in history.”

Higgins opened up in perfect fashion yesterday afternoon with a 63 break in the opening frame to move ahead but McManus responded in style – compiling fluent knocks of 114, 78 and 56 to build a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval.

The 45-year-old actually ruined Higgins’ Crucible debut back in 1995 by beating him in the first round although the Wishaw cueman got revenge 12 months later.

The 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011 world champion also ensured he has a 5-3 advantage following the first session this year by coming out firing after the interval, reeling off four frames in a row – including breaks of 51, 75 and 41.

It is still all to play for though and McManus will be hoping to draw on memories of the 2014 World Championship, where he beat Higgins in round one en route to the quarter-finals.

The veteran was the oldest player to qualify for the main draw this year but believes his experience could actually stand him in good stead as the quarter-final reaches a climax.

“I’m not too old, I’m 45 and I feel younger than that,” added McManus. “Playing John is a huge hurdle for me, especially in a best of 25. But I’ve got experience and I’ve beaten him here twice before, albeit the first of those was on his debut a long time ago.

“The second time was just a couple of years ago though, so I am capable and if I play alright out there I will have a chance. I’ve got to do my job and try to forget about what he’s doing.”

l Watch the World Championship live on Eurosport, with Colin Murray and analysis from Jimmy White and 
Ronnie O’Sullivan.