John Higgins has admitted he will have to play a lot better than he has over the last two days if he is to become snooker’s world champion for the fifth time.
The Scot lines up against defending champion Mark Selby in the final after a 17-8 semi-final victory against an out-of-sorts Barry Hawkins.
The contest was a stodgy, error-ridden affair despite the emphatic scoreline, and Higgins admitted: “I definitely need to raise my game.
“The good thing is I know what I’ve got to do. It’s one last massive game for the season and I’ll give it everything and see where it takes me. I feel absolutely fine.”
At 41, four-time champion Higgins becomes the oldest finalist since 49-year-old Ray Reardon lost to Alex Higgins in 1982.
The final is a replay, a decade on, of the 2007 final when Higgins saw off a 23-year-old Selby, who was far from the finished article he is today.
“It’s roles reversed,” Higgins said. “Ten years ago I’d have been a big favourite to win but obviously Mark’s the favourite this time and I’m the underdog.
“I’ll be nervous. As you get older I feel the nerves are harder to suppress. I’m sure I’ll be a bag of nerves before it starts but then I’m sure I’ll settle down and we’ll hopefully give everyone a good final.”
There was no doubt Hawkins was off his game, and he said: “I think I dragged John down in the end. I played so badly and I think he struggled as well.
“You won’t find many days when John plays like that, and I didn’t capitalise. It’s just another bad day at the office.”
Selby said it would be a dream come true to become a three-time world champion after he set up his showdown with Higgins by beating China’s Ding Junhui 17-15.
The emotion of reaching another title match was clear for all to see as Selby bellowed “Come on!” and struck the table once he crossed the winning line against Ding.
Explaining his raucous reaction, Selby said: “It was more a relief than anything else.”
He had capitalised on a golden chance left to him by Ding, who missed the blue when looking like he might level the match and force a deciding frame. Selby’s 72 break nudged him over the winning line.
“I told myself that even if I took two minutes on every shot, make sure you don’t do something silly,” Selby said. “That was my chance and if I didn’t take it then I think the match would have got away from me and Ding could have come through.
“I made sure I didn’t rush anything even though the adrenaline was pumping.”
Looking ahead to his match with Higgins, Selby said: “To win it twice is more than I could have wished for, but to be out there winning it three times on my own is something I can only dream of. Fingers crossed over the next two days that dream can come true.”
Selby is the modern master of the sport, succeeding the likes of Higgins, Ronnie O’Sullivan and the retired Stephen Hendry.
But he knows in Higgins he will be tackling a player who, though now a veteran and no longer as consistent as he was once, knows exactly what it takes to triumph in Sheffield. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be a fantastic occasion,” Selby said. “He’s a great, great player. One of the greats of the game. It’s going to be another tough match. If he wins another one he’ll be equalling O’Sullivan, trying to create a bit of history himself.”
Selby, inset, potted fewer balls and scored fewer points than Ding, but plotted his way to victory all the same. It is hard to imagine a tougher match player than Selby, and such wins demonstrate why he has topped the world rankings for the past two years and is pulling away.
Ding’s reaction to bowing out to Selby was obvious frustration, given his impressive performance over the last fortnight and the fact he lost to the same opponent in last year’s final.
Ding said: “I’m disappointed to have lost when I played so well but that is sport. Before I missed the blue in the last frame I thought I was going to level at 16-all, but sadly that didn’t happen.
“However I have improved and have been a lot more confident and aggressive here so that is good. On this performance I think Mark Selby is the favourite to win the title.”