Maguire hopes only way is up

Stephen Maguire is hoping Portomaso’s luxurious Hilton hotel and conference centre triggers some happy memories as he struggles to regain the form which won him the Malta Cup two years ago.

Stephen Maguire is hoping Portomaso’s luxurious Hilton hotel and conference centre triggers some happy memories as he struggles to regain the form which won him the Malta Cup two years ago.

Glaswegian Maguire was 41st in the world rankings when he beat John Higgins, Stephen Lee and Jimmy White en route to landing his first major title on the Mediterranean island in 2004.

He also won the UK Championship later the same year and started the current campaign third in the world but has endured a disappointing season, with only one quarter-final appearance to show from the first four tournaments.

Maguire’s fortunes slumped further earlier this month when he was thrashed 6-0 by Lee in the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley.

He said: “Every match I show up to at the moment I get battered all about the place and I haven’t got a clue why.

“I’ve been practising every day and look forward to coming to tournaments but when I get out in the arena I feel like I’ve lost the plot.

“It’s happened to other players and they put it down to confidence but I’ve always been confident. Hopefully I can’t sink any lower than this.”

Maguire, 24, starts out in the Malta Cup tonight against Marco Fu, the former Premier League champion from Hong Kong.

Fu was a member of the elite top 16 last season but is currently 37th in the provisional rankings and needs to put together a decent run of results to stay in the top 32 and therefore avoid having to pre-qualify for many of next year’s tournaments.

Also in action tonight is Matthew Stevens, who has suffered an inconsistent season, winning two titles but losing in the opening round of the other three tournaments.

Stevens, beaten 18-16 by Shaun Murphy in the world final at The Crucible last May, started the campaign by capturing the inaugural Northern Ireland Trophy in Belfast.

The Welshman also won the revived Pot Black at the RAC Club in London but failed to clear his opening hurdles in the Grand Prix, UK Championship and Wembley Masters.

Stevens faces Derbyshire’s Nigel Bond, the 1995 Crucible runner-up, who secured his place in the final stages with a 5-3 victory over Irishman Fergal O’Brien last November.

John Higgins narrowly avoided a shock exit on the opening day of competition when he recovered from 4-2 down to edge Gloucester’s Robert Milkins 5-4.

Higgins, who won the Saga Insurance Masters at Wembley nine days ago, looked certain to suffer a 5-3 defeat when he trailed 50-0 in the eighth frame but Milkins missed a black and the Scot pounced to make it 4-4 before securing the decider.

He faces his fellow Glaswegian Alan McManus for a place in the quarter-finals after the world number 12 beat Tiptree’s Ali Carter 5-2 to register his first victory in a ranking event this season.

There was further disappointment for Paul Hunter, who was beaten 5-3 by Welshman Dominic Dale.

Hunter, the world number five, has only won one match in the season’s first four tournaments as he continues to receive treatment for cancer.

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