Snooker: Higgins cruises through opener

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The Independent Online
JOHN HIGGINS, who finished last year's Embassy World Championship with his record 14th century of the competition, compiled a 142 total clearance in the penultimate frame of his 10-2 first-round win over Gerard Greene, one of eight debutants in the 32-man field at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

The 23-year-old Scot was certain of retaining top position in the end of season world rankings with the last two counting tournaments still to come. UK and Masters Champion, winner of the Liverpool Victoria Charity Challenge and the China International, he has been involved in the latter stages of virtually every event of a long season.

"I was feeling a bit stale before I came here but just walking through the curtains out there gives you a real buzz. I'm looking forward to being here for a fortnight," he said. His ordinary B-plus game, which included breaks of 71, 72, 53 and 60 was all he needed to accumulate an 8-1 lead at lunch.

Greene made a 95 break in the third frame but lack of positional touch, some failed recovery shots and, as the match wore on, loss of confidence undid him.

Anthony Hamilton, beaten 9-7 by Fergal O'Brien in the British Open final, plays from 4-4 to a finish this morning against the studious Scot Chris Small. Making his second appearance at The Crucible seven years after reaching the last 16 as an 18-year-old, Small four times led by the odd frame, but Hamilton made four equalising responses of 103, 70, 72 and 90.

Nigel Bond belied his poor season by seizing an 8-1 lead over Dominic Dale. Bond won two frames on the pink, one on the black, and made breaks of 76, 57, 70 and 83. The Welshman was left to reflect on a seven-frame losing streak which included two unlucky late in-offs.

Tony Drago, whose hat-trick of wins over Stephen Hendry stand out in a disappointing season, took a 7-2 overnight lead over O'Brien, who last weekend became the surprise British Open Champion.