John Higgins has been one of the men to beat at the Crucible in recent years. But not any more.
The Wishaw Wizard has an enviable record here having won three world titles in the last seven seasons. Understandably the 38-year-old is tipped to raise his game in time for snooker’s major blue-ribbon tournament.
But yesterday the struggling Scot crashed out at the first hurdle with a shock 10-7 defeat to compatriot Alan McManus.
The writing was on the wall when the four-time world champion resumed 6-3 down to his good friend McManus. However, Higgins was still tipped to produce one of his trademark comebacks to keep his title-hopes alive. It didn’t happen, though, despite a brief flurry and the former world No 1 became the latest casualty at this year’s 17-day event.
The Crucible has a habit for shocks – and now we’ve already lost Ding Junhui, the player of the season, former world semi-finalist Stephen Maguire and world No 6 Stuart Bingham before the second round.
And expect more upsets to follow as the green baize game’s 17-day marathon hots up over the coming fortnight.
“He froze me out,” admitted Higgins, surprisingly upbeat despite defeat. I just disintegrated for a few frames.”
Twice Crucible semi-finalist McManus pocketed breaks of 88, 54 and 61 in edging within one frame of victory at 9-4. But Higgins rallied with runs of 111, 67 and 94 to claw back to 9-7.
However, the world No 9 missed an easy pot on a blue ball when in the balls and with a great chance to reduce his arrears to one frame and McManus seized the opportunity to qualify and face fellow golden oldie Ken Doherty on Friday.
Hong Kong cueman Marco Fu, a former Crucible semi-finalist, resumes this afternoon with a healthy 6-3 lead over Pinner potter Martin Gould thanks to breaks 124, 83, 88, 60 and 64.
Last year’s Crucible finalist Barry Hawkins fought back from 3-1 and 4-2 down to establish a slender 5-4 lead over qualifier David Gilbert, while former Crucible runner-up Judd Trump returns today with a commanding 6-2 lead over qualifier Tom Ford.
Result: Alan McManus bt John Higgins 10-7.
Latest scores: Marco Fu 6-3 Martin Gould, Barry Hawkins 5-4 David Gilbert, Judd Trump 6-2 Tom Ford.