Brilliant Higgins Defends Welsh Open Crown

John Higgins is the 2011 Welsh Open champion following an excellent 9-6 victory against compatriot Stephen Maguire, winning six of this evening’s seven frames to successfully defend his Welsh Open title in Newport.

At times during the first session however, you would have been hard pressed to call a 9-6 win for John as Stephen began the match in terrific form. With breaks of 59, 53, 89 and 76, Stephen looked like the Maguire of 2004 when he won the UK Championship as a qualifier and threatened to run away with the match.

As he has proved so often however, you can never write off Higgins and he won a couple of crucial frames during that first session, in particular the fifth to keep in touch at 3-2, countering a run of 58 from Stephen with 72 of his own. Even more importantly though he managed to steal the final frame of the session to keep well in touch at 3-5 rather than facing a mountain to climb at 2-6.

As Stephen would later comment, when you have a player like John on the backfoot, you have to take full advantage and having not quite done that, he must have sensed what was to follow.

That being said, John was not quite at his free flowing best and in each of the first three frames during the evening session it was Maguire struck first with reasonable breaks. Unfortunately for Stephen however, he could not convert any into frame-winning breaks and Higgins took two on the final pink and the other on the final black. John then knocked in an excellent 75 to ensure that he went into the final interval now carrying a two frame advantage.

To his credit, Maguire again this week showed his resilience by knocking in 75 of his own to moved back to within a frame before Higgins went one away from the title with 54 and 66.

Frame 15 proved to be the final act as Higgins opened with 72 to leave his opponent needing two snooker. With the match all but over however, Stephen actually got both required snookers and with Higgins faltering on the brown, briefly threatened an unlikely comeback. Ultimately however it was to be in vain as he wobbled the brown and at the same time went in-off to present John the chance that he needed.

Now undefeated in full ranking events since that epic loss to Steve Davis at the Crucible last year, John Higgins really is the best player in the world right now and this performance only serves to underline that fact. He might not have been at his best today, but as is often the case he made the crucial breaks at the most important times and took full advantage of his opponents errors.

That is not to say however that Stephen played badly. On another day and possibly against any other player, he would probably have won today and ended his title drought. Still, there were plenty of positives for Maguire this week and I hope that he can draw on those rather than focus on the fact that he did not win. It will be interesting to see how he performs during the remainder of the season.

Tonight though was all about Higgins who was understandably emotional as he was interviewed by Rob Walker after the match, given what he has been through in recent weeks.