Higgins claims early advantage

New world number one John Higgins put an uncertain start behind him to open up a 5-3 lead in the first session of the 888.com World Championship final against qualifier Mark Selby in Sheffield.

New world number one John Higgins put an uncertain start behind him to open up a 5-3 lead in the first session of the 888.com World Championship final against qualifier Mark Selby in Sheffield.

Higgins won the final three frames when he kept his 23-year-old opponent largely off the table in the best-of-35 encounter.

But Selby could take heart from his general showing in the biggest match of his life and he was giving every indication that hot favourite Higgins would not have an easy ride to the title.

Higgins had achieved one major objective before entering the arena after regaining the top spot in the rankings for the 2007-2008 campaign ahead of last year’s world champion Graeme Dott and number three Shaun Murphy.

The Scot is the fifth player to have regained the number one berth after Ray Reardon, Stephen Hendry, Ronnie O’Sullivan and Mark Williams, with the 31-year-old last in top position for the 1999-2000 season.

Selby, who is assured of 11th spot in the new rankings irrespective of the result of the final, was the third qualifier to be contesting the final after Terry Griffiths in 1979 and Shaun Murphy two years ago.

And his performances during the past fortnight and the early frames of the final came in for praise from Willie Thorne, the last leading player to come from Leicester before the emergence of Selby.

Thorne said: “This week Mark has changed gear. He has been more aggressive, has made 10 centuries in this tournament and looked the real deal.

“To contend major championships Mark’s break-building had to improve, and that has certainly been the case in the last few weeks.”

Higgins was odds-on with the bookmakers to lift his second world crown, with Selby quoted at 13-8 although he had knocked his opponent out in the first round 10-4 last season.

Both players struggled to find any fluency in the early stages in front of a capacity audience with a run of 37 helping 1998 champion Higgins to win the opening frame which lasted more than half an hour.

It was lengthened when referee Eirian Williams needed around five minutes to replace several balls in their correct position with the aid of a video screen after Higgins, snookered behind the black, cannoned into them.

The next frame was of a similar duration and Selby was made to pay for missing a pottable final yellow as Higgins, who had registered the 1000th Crucible century on Saturday, cleared to the pink to double his lead.

Selby, whose only other final appearance was in the 2003 Scottish Open when runner-up to David Gray, opened his account in the third with a 38 clearance.

He was certainly not looking overawed by the biggest occasion of his career and a break of 67 brought him level at the mid-session interval – the first half-century of the match.

Selby moved up a gear after the interval and a superb 116 clearance brought him his 11th century of the tournament – more than anyone else.

That put him ahead for the first time, but Higgins was not to be outdone and replied with a break of 97 in frame six.

The Wizard of Wishaw had also upped his level of performance since the restart and runs of 39 and 31 restored his advantage.

He completed a hat-trick of frames with breaks of 32 and 44.

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