Snooker: Higgins shrugs off early nerves to thwart Stevens' fightback

Six returning title-holders have perished in their opening match here but despite fears to the contrary, John Higgins convincingly avoided becoming the seventh with an eye-catching performance on day one of the World Championship.

Any thoughts that Higgins, who has failed to reach the last four in ranking tournaments this season, would fall at the earliest opportunity were dispelled by his 10-5 victory over Matthew Stevens, a player boasting a distinguished Crucible pedigree.

Stevens, twice a finalist and three times a semi-finalist since 2000, led 2-1 before Higgins shrugged off early hesitancy to storm through the following six frames for a commanding 7-2 lunchtime advantage.

Steve Davis, the defending champion on six occasions, once noted that the first-day atmosphere is stifling. "The first shock hasn't happened yet and you can't help worrying it might be you," he said. Hence the genuine concern of Higgins last night as Stevens rallied to trail only 7-5.

Stevens also had the initial chance in the 13th frame but, using the rest, expensively jawed a red to a baulk pocket. Higgins stepped in with a nerve-settling run of 75 and, his momentum regained, swiftly plundered the next two games with breaks of 120 and 103.

"After I nicked the fourth to go 2-2, I scored very heavily and that's always good for boosting your confidence," said Higgins. "I know from personal experience that you can't lift the trophy here without doing that." He now meets Ryan Day or Michael Judge in the last 16.

"I tried to block out the fact that he was coming back at me. I kept telling myself that I was still in front and the one in the driver's seat. I was determined to stay positive, no matter what," Higgins added. "When I drew Matthew I was gutted but I realised he was under a lot of pressure because he needed to win the match to get back into the top 16 in the rankings next season. He probably felt even more sick about the draw than I did.

"I don't deserve any plaudits or anyone predicting that I'm going to win here again. I've had a poor season but I feel I'm really well prepared and I know in my own mind I've got as good a shot at this as anyone."

It was the first time in 11 visits to the sport's most famous venue that Stevens, a former Masters and UK champion, has been eliminated in the first round.

Australian Neil Robertson, who resumes this morning with a 7-2 lead over Nigel Bond, has not played as well this year as he did in winning two ranking titles last season. But breaks of 70, 70 and 80 showed that the 26-year-old left-hander was in fine fettle.

Jamie Cope, a 22-year-old from Stoke who has already appeared in two ranking finals, marked his debut here by taking a 5-2 lead over Peter Ebdon before the 2002 world champion replied with breaks of 87 and 103 to limit his overnight arrears to 5-4.

Joe Swail, twice a semi-finalist at the Crucible, resumes this evening with a 7-2 lead over Stephen Lee, runner-up in the Masters at Wembley in January.

Having won two titles this season, Ronnie O'Sullivan is favourite for the world title. Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire have also won twice this year, and Shaun Murphy, outstandingly consistent, comes here as provisional No 1 in the world rankings.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£16000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SEO Executive is required to...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders