Relentless Higgins marches on

John Higgins made major strides towards lifting his second 888.com World Championship title after opening up an overnight 12-4 lead against qualifier Mark Selby at the Crucible Theatre.

John Higgins made major strides towards lifting his second 888.com World Championship title after opening up an overnight 12-4 lead against qualifier Mark Selby at the Crucible Theatre.

Higgins moved into top gear after a nervy start to the best-of-35 frame showdown and now needs only six more to repeat his 1998 success in the tournament.

The new world number one won seven frames in a row to take total charge against the Leicester potter who struggled to repeat the form which had knocked out former world champions Peter Ebdon and Shaun Murphy.

It looked as if the effects of draining last-frame victories over Ali Carter and Shaun Murphy in the quarter-finals and semi-finals had taken their toll on Selby.

Higgins had initially been out of sorts by his own high standards against 23-year-old Selby who even led 3-2 at one juncture.

But from that point the player known as the ’Wizard of Wishaw’ conjured up some magical snooker and demonstrated ruthless matchplay to move almost out of sight of his opponent.

The confidence seemed to drain out of Selby who was kept off the table for lengthy periods and also never had the rub of the green.

History is against him making a comeback as the biggest overnight deficit overturned to lift the title is 10-6 – by Mark Williams (2000) and Murphy (2005) - both at the expense of Matthew Stevens.

The last time a player was 12-4 down going into the second day was Jimmy White in 1993 when he eventually lost 18-5 to Stephen Hendry.

Willie Thorne, the last leading snooker player to emerge from Leicester, said: “Mark is entitled to be tired after the gruelling matches with Carter and Murphy.

“He did not settle in the evening session and looked a little apprehensive, looking a bit sorry for himself. His demeanour was not right.”

Higgins held a 5-3 advantage after the opening session in which Selby’s 116 was his 11th century of the tournament – more than anyone else.

But it was Higgins who was on song when play resumed and a 100 in frame 11 and 106 in frame 16 took his own personal ton tally to 10 and the overall number to 66.

There is also every chance the record number of centuries in the world tournament – 68 in 2002 – could be beaten

Selby was made to pay dearly for a double kiss on a red when trying to play safe in the first frame of the evening with an opening break of 75.

It was a similar scenario in the next when a poor break-off shot by Selby let in Higgins again and he put together a run of 75 before his opponent conceded.

Lady Luck was against Selby in frame 11 when he had a large ’kick’ on the blue. It left him an awkward red which he failed to convert and in stepped Higgins for a 100 clearance.

Selby had to stop the rot and he looked favourite when a break of 40 helped him into a 61-23 lead.

But he failed to negotiate a Higgins snooker behind the green which left his opponent an easy opening red and a 47 clearance sealed the frame and meant a pre-interval whitewash.

Selby ended his lean run in the first frame after the restart despite an initial 58 break from Higgins.

A 38 brought him back into the game and he cleared to the pink after Higgins had failed to get out of a snooker and left the final red in an easy pottable position.

But any hopes of a major Selby revival were quashed when a 36 and a 40 restored Higgins’ six-frame advantage.

The penultimate frame was a 42-minute see-saw affair where both players had chances after Higgins’ initial 53. Selby eventually conceded after failing to get out of two snookers and leaving Higgins an easy blue.

The Scot ended the session in style with a 116 and it will need a superhuman effort by Selby to bring him back in contention.

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