Hendry takes lead in all-Scottish battle

Stephen Hendry hit the front in his long-awaited first Crucible meeting with John Higgins as Scotland's big day in Sheffield arrived.

Stephen Hendry hit the front in his long-awaited first Crucible meeting with John Higgins as Scotland's big day in Sheffield arrived.

While Hendry made his debut as long ago as 1986, since Higgins made his first appearance at the Betfred.com World Championship in 1995 they might have gone head to head in any year.

Bafflingly the pair who have 11 world titles between them have avoided each other, but this year's draw offered the opportunity for a second-round tussle, and with Higgins overcoming Liang Wenbo and Hendry crushing Stuart Bingham, the potential showdown became a reality.

Hendry had to qualify this year but his maximum break against Bingham confirmed the 43-year-old as a man in form, and he ploughed in breaks of 81, 69, 93, 123 and 67 to seize a 5-3 lead in the best-of-25-frames tussle. They resume tonight and, providing Hendry does not win all eight frames then, play to a finish tomorrow afternoon.

Higgins, the 36-year-old four-time world champion, took the opening two frames of the match, but neither player looked to have settled down.

Hendry, who won the last of his record seven world titles in 1999, then responded with two classy breaks to draw level at 2-2. Squint as you watched him return to form, and it could have been the player who dominated the famous venue through the 1990s.

Yet any Crucible newcomer told the pair had won 11 world titles between them might reasonably, in the very early stages, have asked the question: "In which sport?"

Nerves, despite their respective records in Sheffield, were inevitably a factor in a sluggish start.

They each potted an early red and followed up by missing a colour, while Hendry then committed two fouls on the black. Eventually, Higgins crept ahead and pulled 2-0 clear thanks to a 52 break.

Hendry needed to show he could be a force in the match, and duly Auchterarder's most celebrated resident came good.

He was denied a century in frame three when, 19 short of three figures, he rattled the green in the jaws.

Hendry then fired in a swift run of 69 that ended when he clipped one red into another, presenting Wishaw cueman Higgins with an opening. At 73-0 ahead, Hendry returned to his seat knowing a possible 75 was left on the table.

Higgins began picking off the points but snookered himself behind the blue, failed to connect with a red, and gave Hendry a free ball.

That was effectively frame over, the grand master punishing the mistake.

Higgins returned from the mid-session interval to ram in the first century of the match, a rapid 124 to restore his lead, but it was the last frame he won of the session as Hendry reeled off three in a row.

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