Classy Higgins sets sights on semi-final berth

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JOHN Higgins is ready to bring the “Rocket” Ronnie O’Sullivan down to earth on snooker’s greatest stage.

The triple world champions kicked off their mouth-watering Crucible quarter-final clash in Sheffield yesterday.

They finished deadlocked at 4-4 after the opening session of their best-of-25 frame contest, although Higgins twice squandered two-frame cushions.

O’Sullivan on song with breaks of 105, 69 and a fine break of 89 to stop himself slipping 5-2 behind, while Higgins pocketed breaks of 53, 66 and 121 to force the pace.

The pair resume to conclude their match today with a maximum of eight frames planned for the morning session, with a possible nine in the final evening session.

And while there’s plenty of mutual respect for each other, both green baize heavyweights are hungry to land a knockout blow.

“It’s always a great occasion wherever you play Ronnie,” said Higgins. “He’s got the Jimmy White and Alex Higgins factor, the crowd are on his side and that generates a buzz which you love playing in.

“Playing O’Sullivan anywhere probably generates the same buzz as playing in a final against most other people.

“I’m determined, but determination only gets you so far. You’ve got to have a bit of ability to go along with that.”

Higgins dumped out Stephen Lee with a 10-5 first round win, before a workmanlike 13-7 victory over qualifier Rory McLeod.

O’Sullivan, who threatened to withdraw from this season’s 17-day marathon before a dramatic U-turn, wasted little time in dispensing with Welshman Dominic Dale 10-2 in his opening match, which he followed with a battling 13-10 against Shaun Murphy, the 2005 Crucible champion.

But the Chigwell potter knows he’s going to have to find another gear if he’s going to end the “Wizard of Wishaw’s” title charge.

“There is a lot of mutual respect between us,” said O’Sullivan. “I’ve got great respect for John’s game.”