Slow but steady for Higgins

John Higgins made a shaky start to his Betfred.com World Championship title defence this morning but still took three of the opening four frames against Liang Wenbo.

John Higgins made a shaky start to his Betfred.com World Championship title defence this morning but still took three of the opening four frames against Liang Wenbo.

On the first morning at the Crucible, Higgins’ game looked rusty, as he had indicated it would after a difficult season.

But his ’B’ game was dependable enough to see the 36-year-old Scot open a 3-1 lead at the mid-session interval.

The four-time world champion, who has slipped from third to sixth in the world rankings, admits he has neglected his game since beating Judd Trump to triumph in Sheffield last May.

He has given over increased time to family life, after a traumatic period in his life in which he has served a six-month snooker suspension following the News of the World sting in April 2010, lost his father to cancer, and, in stark contrast, experienced the world title high.

As is tradition, the defending champion starts and finishes his match on the opening day, with a concluding session starting at 7pm tonight.

Higgins edged the opening frame of the match with a top break of 33 amid erratic play from both men, before finding some fluency to counter 45 from Liang in the next frame with a cool run of 71.

Liang, 25, knocked out Scotland’s Marcus Campbell in the final qualifying round to earn his fourth appearance at the Crucible. Twice his campaigns have been ended by Ronnie O’Sullivan, while he suffered defeat at the hands of compatriot Ding Junhui in 2009.

Today he pulled a frame back and threatened to draw level at 2-2 before Higgins edged frame four.

On the other side of the arena, Dave Gilbert began well as he sought his first Crucible victory.

The 30-year-old from Tamworth won four qualifiers to reach the main draw, and he had breaks of 58, 72 and 54 in developing a 3-2 lead over fellow English potter Martin Gould.

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