Sunday 18 February 2018

Snooker: Davis rolls back years to see off Higgins

John Skilbeck

Steve Davis, the Crucible king of the 1980s, is back on his throne again after amazing even himself by knocking out defending world champion John Higgins.

Practically a part-time player at the age of 52, Davis shed a tear after completing an incredible 13-11 victory in the second round of the World Championship yesterday and will now face Australian Neil Robertson.

After more than nine hours of an intense battle with the new world No 1, Davis finished with possibly the toughest 20 break of his career. "Until I potted the final pink and held myself together while I was shaking like a leaf, perhaps I didn't believe it was going to happen," Davis admitted.

The crowd roared their approval as the man making a record 30th appearance at the World Championship defeated one who bookmakers had made a 1/20 near-certainty for the match. Davis has been afforded sentimental ovations each time he has entered the theatre during this tournament, but the salute on this occasion was hard earned.

"I just cannot really believe that I played strongly enough to beat John," Davis said. "I hoped I would play well in the first round and I fancied that I was playing okay but you never know until you actually get here."

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of his famous final against Dennis Taylor, and Davis revealed he might have to scrap plans for a one-frame re-match next Thursday lunchtime should he reach the semi-finals. The winning break from yellow to pink saw snooker's greatest mind go into attack mode. He had to double the brown and nudge the blue over the pocket in the same shot, and executed it to perfection.

"I just thought, 'This is your moment, go for it', and the blue went lovely over the pocket," Davis said. "Then I was perfect on the pink and I still didn't fancy potting it. I was wobbling like anything. It was awful. How it went in, I don't know. It's just ridiculous."

That was match ball, and as applause thundered around the compact arena Higgins shook hands with his childhood hero. "He said, 'You're still a champion', or 'You're still a master'. It was really kind of him," Davis said. "He's a great champion himself. I couldn't beat a nicer bloke."

"I hated him out there. I was looking at him, despising him, and hoping he would collapse or something," Higgins said after the match, half-jokingly.

When six-time champion Davis last won the world title, in 1989, he was only just out of his 20s. The prospect of a seventh title at the age of 52 is something he is reluctant to discuss. "That's a recipe for sporting disaster. If I start looking ahead I've had it," he said.

As he left the arena, Davis could finally come to terms with his achievement. "I wasn't crying but I had half a tear in my eye because of the shock, the belief and a little bit of emotion. But I wasn't boo-hooing," he said.

Davis then spoke to his long-time manager Barry Hearn, who was on a fishing trip. "He said I did very well for an older gentleman," Davis said, also hinting that Hearn's comments were a touch more risque but would remain private.

Davis would love to reach the semi-final stage, when the tournament changes to a one-table format. But should he pass the next hurdle that clash with Taylor will have to go on hold. "The chance to get to the one-table set-up is a dream," Davis said. "It looked like my best chance of getting there was by playing Dennis in the rematch.

"My plan was always to make sure that particular game doesn't happen. I'll play it if I have to, but not if I'm playing in the afternoon. If he beat me it would do my confidence no good! But there's a match before that and it's one ball at a time, one frame at a time."

Higgins played a poor match, and gave Davis far too many chances, admitting he was "all over the place" but wishing Davis luck for the rest of the tournament. "I would love him to go on and maybe play wee Graeme [Dott] or another fellow Scotsman in the final."

Sunday Independent

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