Andrew Higginson did John Higgins a friendly favour on the Scot’s arrival in Newport but hopes to be firmly in the driving seat when they clash in the second round of the Welsh Open tonight.
Higginson, 29, is enjoying the best season of his 11-year career after victories over Jimmy White and Steve Davis in the Malta Cup.
Ken Doherty finally ended his run in Portomaso but Higginson had the satisfaction of reaching the last 16 of a ranking event for the first time.
A 5-2 victory over Hong Kong’s Marco Fu in the first round at Newport ensured another match to remember against Higgins, who he helped out when the former world champion was stuck without transport to the Newport Centre.
“I gave John a lift down to the venue from the hotel because the traffic is so bad in the town centre that he would have been ages waiting for a car,” Higginson said.
“When he’s on top form, it’s between him and Ronnie O’Sullivan in terms of who is the best.
“I know I’ll have to play well just to compete but it’s been an honour to play these players, people like Jimmy, Steve, Ken and now John.
“It’s easily my best-ever season. This is what I’ve dreamt of since I was a kid. People were asking me when they would see me on TV and it added pressure because I know I’m good enough.
“It’s just that you start doubting yourself when you’re losing.”
Higginson qualified for the main tour from the game’s secondary circuit last season having been relegated in 2004.
His run to the final stages on Malta was only the second time he had qualified for the concluding phase of a major event but he followed this feat by winning three matches to reach Newport.
Higginson opened against Fu with a break of 125 and from 2-2 finished with runs of 70, 67 and 81.
“I played really well against Marco,” he said. “I hardly missed anything. I haven’t played that well for a while so I just hope it can carry on.”
Nigel Bond and Alan McManus were among the established names going through on the first day of competition.
Bond, a former British Open champion, avenged a 5-0 defeat to Liang Wenbo by beating the Chinese 19-year-old 5-3 while McManus, twice the runner-up in the Welsh Open, beat Liverpool’s Rod Lawler 5-2.
Michael Holt, who beat Ronnie O’Sullivan in the first round of the Malta Cup, came from 4-2 down to edge Ricky Walden 5-4.
Holt compiled breaks of 131, 104 and, in the decider, 115 but was forced to win a 51-minute eighth frame on the pink just to keep the match alive.
Former world champion John Parrott failed to make it through as he was beaten 5-2 by Cambridgeshire’s Joe Perry.
Mark King, the 1997 Welsh Open runner-up, also made an early exit after losing 5-0 to Kent-based Northern Irishman Gerard Greene.
Ben Woollaston, a 19-year-old from Leicester who has already won three matches to qualify for Newport, earned a dream clash with seven-times world champion Stephen Hendry by beating Londoner David Gray 5-3.