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Sunday 28 May 2017

Snooker: Higgins draws inspiration from father in final bid

John Skilbeck

John Higgins is feeling his father's arm around him as he steps up his challenge for a fourth World Championship title.

The Scot lost dad John Snr in February after a cancer battle, and paid an emotional tribute to him after winning the Welsh Open later in the month.

Higgins' career has been guided by his father, and it continues to be after his death.

"It's inspiring me," the 35-year-old said. "It's the first time I've been down here when he's not been here but he's watching down. He was a big character and I know he's here as well."

Higgins was 5-3 ahead of Mark Williams last night in the first session of their semi-final, which is set to conclude on Saturday evening.

Visits to the Crucible challenge the endurance of even the leading players such as Higgins, the champion of 1998, 2007 and '09.

"It's a test of everything," Higgins said. "It's a test of whether you can get your sleep at night. Your whole nervous system is in meltdown for 17 days, it's just how you handle it. Experience only gets you so far, you've got to have ability to go with it. You look at Judd Trump, who's got no experience here and he's blitzing everyone."

Getting sufficient sleep is a genuine concern for Higgins, who joked he has stumbled on a solution to the problem. "It's difficult," he said, "but I've got my little brother with me and he can bore me to tears now and get me to sleep."

No doubt lifting the trophy on Monday has crossed his mind overnight, before and after drifting off.

Higgins believes he struck lucky in his quarter-final victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan when he came out of the second session level at 8-8, having been 8-5 behind at one stage.

"People say you have a few bad sessions here before you win it and that probably was mine," he said.

Trump, as Higgins attested, has been shown superb form and the 21-year-old from Bristol has moved 5-3 ahead of Ding Junhui in their semi-final.

The last Englishman standing in Sheffield played some outrageous snooker. There was a sensational red played at high pace with deep screw along a side cushion which had the audience gasping, a phenomenal long brown, and an exquisite cut red to set up a frame-winning break. The left-hander also played an aggressive pot right-handed, making light of awkward bridging, in the closing frame.

One table was removed from the theatre last night, with the other moved to centre stage, and Trump said: "I've got the whole crowd to entertain now, rather than having just half the arena to myself."

Ding, who on Wednesday night knocked out Mark Selby, had a break of 102 to take the opening frame. But then Trump took over, and over the next three frames he played one stunning shot after another.

He responded to Ding's century with a dazzling 110, featuring his startling side-cushion red and the super brown.

The break he clinched frame three with was just 42, but it was surely as good a 42 as there has ever been at the World Championship. He cut in a remarkable red to keep the break going and cleared to the pink to edge ahead.

In the fourth frame Trump rammed in an opening red from long range before snookering his opponent behind the pink. It was the right shot. Ding hit the last remaining red but clipped it over the green pocket and Trump feasted on the leftovers, a break of 32 giving him a two-frame cushion. They shared the next four frames.

It would have been harsh on Trump had he not led after the session, and a break of 59 in frame eight, including his brassy right-handed shot, made sure that he did.

Their best-of-33-frame contest resumes today and is due to reach a conclusion on tomorrow afternoon.

The World Championship

Live, BBC2, 12.45/7.0

Irish Independent

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