John Higgins secured a record breaking fifth Welsh Open title on Sunday evening in Cardiff with an engrossing 9-7 victory over Barry Hawkins.
The tournament was the last stop in this season’s Home Nations Series that has seen trophies awarded in Barnsley,Belfast and Glasgow. It is the first time Higgins has captured a Home Nations competition, pushing his career ranking event total to 30 – two behind Ronnie O’Sullivan and six behind leader Stephen Hendry on the all-time list.
There were a number of surprise early exits at the Motorpoint Arena; Mark Selby, Judd Trump, Ding Junhui, Shaun Murphy, Ali Carter, Luca Brecel, Neil Robertson and Anthony McGill all failed to make it to the Last 32, yet the final still featured two of the sport’s elite players.
Higgins dropped a total of just three frames in defeatingMatthew Selt, Stephen Maguire, Sam Craigie and Nigel Bond, before setting up a mouth-watering Quarter-Final clash with O’Sullivan, who was on a hot streak having won last week’s World Grand Prix.
However, helped by an under-performing O’Sullivan, Higgins managed to eliminate the competition favourite 5-1, recording his second consecutive win over The Rocket following a 5-0 against him at the same stage of the Scottish Open in December. Prior to that, O’Sullivan had won their four other clashes earlier in the season. Higgins chalked up the last three frames to deny Gary Wilson 6-2 in the Semis, whilst breaks of 138, 141 and five further half-centuries contributed to his success against Hawkins.
Along with lifting the Ray Reardon trophy, the Scot banked £70,000, consolidating his fifth place in the World Rankings. 42-year-old Higgins and his contemporaries Mark Williams and O’Sullivan have had an extremely strong season; between them they have collected eight ranking events. Incredibly, last season they won none.
The tournament saw a welcome return to form for three-time ranking winner Hawkins, who has endured a testing season on and off the table. Hawkins more than played his part in an entertaining final. The Englishman held with the four-time World Champion – at one stage leading 4-2, compiling a trio of centuries in the process.
Elsewhere during the week in South Wales, Thailand’s Noppon Saengkham reached his first ranking Semi-Final, where his run was ended by Hawkins 6-4. Next up for the circuit is this week’s Gibraltar Open where the professionals enter the fray on Friday morning.