DEFENDING champion John Higgins recovered from a mighty scare to avoid a shock first round exit on the opening day of the World Snooker Championship.
The Scot looked set for an early Crucible exit against China’s Liang Wenbo when he trailed 6-8 during what was possibly one of the best opening days to a World Championship the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield has ever seen.
But Higgins showed why he has captured four World titles to his name producing a brilliant fight back to grind out a nervy but thrilling win.
The world number six hit a stunning 133 break in the 15th frame to reduce his deficit to one before levelling and then taking a vital 9-8 lead with a break of 58.
Wenbo though came storming back at the vital time as a frame-winning run of 78 forced the match into a decider.
Higgins looked in control but a break of 40 ended when he missed a red into the centre pocket. Wenbo fought back with a 52 to add even more drama contest. But a risky double attempt proved to cost Wenbo the match as Higgins cleared under huge pressure to claim victory.
After winning the deciding frame, Higgins punched the air with delight realising he was a lucky man to have got through to the next round.
But the highlight of the day came in the afternoon when Stephen Hendry brought the whole of the theatre to a stand-still hitting a maximum 147 in his first round encounter with Stuart Bingham.
The seven times world champion, who had to qualify for this year’s event, rolled back the years today and showed the form that made him the dominant force in the game in the 1990s.
After a scrappy opening frame, Hendry hit breaks of 100 and 89 to race into a 3-0 lead. Bingham got off the mark just before the mid-session interval but that was to be his only joy of the day.
Breaks of 78 and 61 moved Hendry into a commanding 5-1 lead before the magical moment happened which saw the Scot compile his third Crucible maximum break in his career – sending a delighted crowd into raptures.
Hendry continued his dominance to take the remaining two frames of the session and gain a massive 8-1 lead going into Sunday’s final session.
Bingham will have to play out of his skin on Sunday to have any chance of pulling off a remarkable comeback victory. The winner meets John Higgins in the last 16.
2010 world champion Neil Robertson was in equally impressive form taking a huge 7-2 lead over Ken Doherty this afternoon.
Despite a shaky start, the Australian won four frames in a row from 3-2 up and hit three century breaks in the process to put himself in a very strong position.
Doherty started well and could have had a maximum in the second frame but missed the 14th red leaving the break on 104. The Irishman will need to start well tomorrow if he is to fight back in this contest.
World Open winner Mark Allen will have to come from behind tomorrow (Sunday) if he is to book his place in the last 16.
Cao Yupeng, one of this year’s Crucible debutants, looked like he played at the famous arena every year as he settled in straight away taking a surprise 3-0 and 4-1 lead.
Trailing 5-2 Allen’s position was looking precarious to say the least but the Ulsterman fought back winning the final two frames to trail 5-4.
And qualifier David Gilbert put himself in a good position to record a shock win taking a 6-3 lead against Martin Gould.
Gilbert, who last played at the Crucible in 2007, just needs four more frames on Sunday morning to reach the last 16 of the competition.