As the World Snooker Championship reaches its climax, Richard Mann previews the semi-final matches between John Higgins and Kyren Wilson and Mark Williams and Barry Hawkins.
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John Higgins and Judd Trump served up one of the classic Crucible matches on Wednesday evening with the Scot prevailing in a final-frame decider.
From 7-4 and then 11-9 down, Higgins drew on all his previous experience to get over the line, producing some outstanding snooker under extreme pressure, and he will play Kyren Wilson for a place in the final.
Already a four-time winner of this event, Higgins will be desperate to set the record straight having lost to Mark Selby in last year’s final here despite holding a commanding lead in the early stages of the match.
As Higgins told sportinglife.com prior to this season’s World Championship, that defeat is one that still hurts.
"It's a defeat that when you're in your quiet moments, you think about different things and think it was a chance that got away," he said.
"Every credit to Mark [Selby], you've got to tip your hat to him. What a champion he is, but it hurts."
Higgins has displayed immense mental resolve to come back from that devastating defeat and those strengths were again evident in last night’s victory over Trump.
Nevertheless, he will need all that and more when he takes on the impressive Wilson in what has all the hallmarks of another classic.
Wilson is an exceptional young talent with a rock-solid temperament to boot and he has taken to the Crucible like a duck to water.
Runs to the quarter-final stages in the last two years served notice that he was a star in the making and his performances this season have seen Wilson really blossom.
A runner-up finish at the Masters in London sits alongside final appearances at the World Open and English Open and his form this fortnight has been very strong.
Wilson had far too many guns for Matthew Stevens in the first round before brushing aside Jamie Jones and Mark Allen.
His 13-6 rout of Allen was particularly noteworthy, given Allen got the better of Wilson in that Masters final, and suggests he has taken his game to another level in the past few months.
As well as boasting an impressive temperament - one which has earned him the nickname of 'The Warrior' – Wilson has made noticeable strides in the break-building department with his cue-ball control much improved.
He will be fresh and hungry and though he can’t call upon Higgins' vast Crucible experience, he has had an easier run to this stage and the latter will do well to get back to the standards he found last night.
As was the case in the final 12 months ago, Higgins was running on empty late on and his gruelling quarter-final encounter with Trump, with its late finish, could leave him vulnerable in what is sure to be another taxing affair.
Writing Higgins off is never a smart move - after all, he is a wonderful champion with arguably only Ronnie O’Sullivan standing above him in the list of all time snooker greats.
However, in Wilson, I firmly believe he is taking on another champion in the making and at almost 2/1, the younger and fresher man is just too big to ignore.
This semi-final looks the stronger of the two and I’d be surprised if the winner didn’t go on to lift the trophy, making Wilson very appealing in the outright market at 5/1.
That second semi-final sees another of the game’s elder statesmen, Mark Williams, taking on Crucible specialist Barry Hawkins.
Williams was close to retiring at the end of last season, so bad was his form, but the 2000 and 2003 world champion has enjoyed a terrific campaign with wins in the Northern Ireland Open and German Masters.
Williams has maintained that strong form in Sheffield, breezing past Jimmy Robertson, Robert Milkins and Ali Carter, and he won’t be phased by the pressure of another last-four appearance.
Nor will Barry Hawkins, lining up in his fifth World Championship semi-final having also made the final in 2013.
The form Hawkins displayed in trouncing Ding Junhui in their quarter-final clash suggests he is right at the top of his game but with similar comments also applying to Williams, this one looks too close to call.
Posted at 1030 BST on 03/05/18