World Championship 2011: Higgins Comeback Captures Fourth World Crown

Congratulations to Scotland’s John Higgins who has tonight reaffirmed his status as one of the all-time great players by defeating Judd Trump 18-15 to win his fourth world title at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. Click below for my immediate reaction…

Having notched a high break of just 64 during the previous day’s 17 frames, John Higgins must have been delighted to come out of the day trailing by just 10-7. From an early stage today it was apparent that the Scot was in better shape too as breaks of 59 and 97 were enough to secure him two frames prior to the mid-session interval. It was however only two because young Judd Trump was also in fantastic form, runs of 104 and 99 seeing the players into the mid-session interval after little more than 40 minutes of play and before the clock had struck even 3pm!

While John was now scoring more heavily than he had done previously and now knocking in a few more of the long balls that he had until that point been missing, it seemed that he could not quite make any inroads into Judd’s lead but the crucial turning point of the match was to come during the day’s 22nd frame. Having seen Higgins steal a succession of frames, indeed not just during this match but throughout the entire tournament, it looked as though Judd would snatch one following a missed red from the Scot on 47. Coming awkwardly on the blue however, after two minutes of thinking time, Judd decided to take it on but unfortunately for him was to miss and leave it hanging over the pocket to pave the way for another Higgins clearance.

As it would turn out, this would alter the course of the entire match as having looked favourite for 13-9, Judd now began to miss a few more balls and would ultimately lose the next three frames as Higgins moved through the gears with breaks of 113, 93 and 57.

Could Judd bounce back? Personally I thought that he could. Yes he had lost four frames in a row but the mental strength and confidence that he had displayed during this tournament as well as the China Open does not suddenly just disappear and judging by his relaxed manner at Piccolino’s as he tucked into his dinner between sessions on the next table to me, he was not going to dwell on letting his lead slip.

As the 7pm session began the reaction from the crowd in the arena was absolutely unprecedented, a five minute standing ovation greeting the players as they walked out and believe me, MC Rob Walker’s face as he entered the press room afterwards was just an absolute picture!

While the breaks did not quite live up to those during the afternoon session, the snooker continued to be of a good standard as Higgins just about managed to keep his nose in front, moving 16-14 ahead before Judd managed to pull one back with a 70 break following a surprising miss on 46 from the Scot.

The next two frames however seemed to sum up Judd’s day as having almost completed one of the all-time great clearances, Higgins missed a brown with the rest (on which John would later admit his ‘arm just went the other way’), only to leave it safe. Soon after John would then make amends with a stunning pot to move just one away at 17-15.

Judd looked for all the world like he would then again reduce his arrears to one as he potted a great red under the circumstances to leave Higgins needing two four-point snookers. Cleverly however, John then potted all of the colours up to the pink before playing a snooker behind the black from which Judd could not escape. Higgins as he so often does duly went on to pot a fabulous double on the pink before adding the black to secure an emotional victory given the events of the past few months.

Having appeared to be right up against it at various stages during this tournament, specifically 8-5, 9-5 and 12-9 down to Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and Judd respectively, his latest title just demonstrates what a tremendous battler he is and how he is just able to produce his best snooker to capture a frame when it really, really matters despite what has gone before. There is no other player capable of producing his best snooker under pressure than Higgins at present.

With four world titles now, one clear of his great contemporary Ronnie O’Sullivan, Higgins stated during his post-match press conference that he is now gunning for Stephen Hendry’s total of seven and having won the title during three of the past five years who is to say that he is not capable of doing that? Is he now a better player than O’Sullivan? Is he now the greatest of all-time as Neil Robertson and Steve Davis have suggested on Twitter tonight? I would not yet go that far, but only time will tell. He is certainly the best player in the world at present and for my money has been for the past three years now despite losing his world number one status to Mark Williams following this tournament.

But what of Judd, the player who has captured the imagination of not just snooker fans, but the public at large during the past fortnight? During his press conference he was fairly philosophical and when questioned about his decision to take on that tricky blue was unrepentant, pointing out that his style of play had been what had taken him to the final so to change that at this stage could have been silly. The blue was a tough call but at the time I could not blame him for going for it, it is easy to sit up in the press room or at home and say that it was the wrong shot and given what followed it is even easier to say that now, but I do not think that it was that clear cut at the time.

While he fell just short tonigh,t it has been an unbelievable month for him that has undoubtedly established him as one of the world’s top players and as he said post-match, will make him a target for the others next season who will be wanting to bring him back down to earth with a bump. Surely he will be back again in the position before long and when he does he will know exactly what to expect. As he also pointed out post-match, he now knows that you can have a bad session as he did against Ding Junhui in the semi-finals, and bounce back from that.

What is for sure is that the fans have really taken to him and the way that he plays the game and that can only be a good thing for snooker.

And so that brings a memorable tournament to a close. It has been a great 17 days for me personally and later today I shall be posting a few more considered thoughts on the tournament as a whole, but for now it is time to catch up on some much needed sleep!