Players Championship 2019 – Day 3

Yesterday saw the last two first round matches played in the afternoon and the first quarter-final played in the evening.

Here are the reports by Worldsnooker:

Afternoon session:

John Higgins continued his return to form by knocking world number one Mark Selby out of the Coral Players Championship, his 6-4 victory setting up a showpiece match with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Higgins and O’Sullivan, two of snooker’s all-time greats, will meet in the quarter-finals on Friday at 1pm at the Preston Guild Hall (limited number of tickets still available, for details click here). It’s a repeat of their 2005 Grand Prix final at the same venue, when Higgins won 9-2 with four consecutive centuries.

It has been a patchy season for  Wizard of Wishaw Higgins, with surprise early exits from several tournaments. But in recent weeks he has shown glimpses of his best, with runs to the quarter-finals of the Welsh Open and the semi-finals of last week’s Indian Open. And today’s win over Selby keeps his momentum going.

After sharing the first two frames, Higgins went 3-1 up with breaks of 68 and 58. Selby responded with 67, 76 and 121 to take three in a row to lead 4-3. But the Englishman didn’t pot a ball in the last three frames as Higgins dominated them with top runs of 58 and 68.

“I’m delighted because I haven’t beaten Mark for a couple of years and I have lost some big games against him,” said 43-year-old Higgins. “At 3-1 in front I was bracing myself to go close with him because you always know he’s going to come back at you. At 4-3 I was still trying to stay positive. In India last week I felt I was starting to hit the ball a bit better so that gave me confidence.

“I have made a drastic change to my practice situation, I’m playing at a unit in Glasgow now with Stephen Maguire and Anthony McGill. Hopefully that will give me impetus for the rest of my career. Before that I was getting really down in the dumps in the house and not practising. You need to put the work in to do well in this game. Hopefully I can give myself a chance now looking ahead to Sheffield.”

Higgins needs to win the tournament in Preston to earn a spot in the new Coral Tour Championship in Llandudno later this month. He added: “That’s not on my mind because every game is tough here. If I had won the tournament in India it might have made it a bit easier. But I’m just trying to play my best in each game.”

Stuart Bingham beat David Gilbert 6-4 in a match which has vital implications in terms of Coral Tour Championship qualification. Bingham is now up to seventh on the one-year ranking list, with the top eight after the Gibraltar Open to make it to Llandudno, while Gilbert will need a deep run in Gibraltar to have a chance (for more on that race click here).

A run of 86 gave Gilbert the opening frame before English Open champion Bingham took three in a row with 60, 71 and 68. Gilbert stole the fifth frame on the black then added the next two to lead 4-3. But Basildon’s Bingham looked in control for the remainder of the contest and sealed it in frame ten with a break of 57.

“The race to get to Llandudno has been on my mind since Christmas,” said Bingham, who now plays Mark Allen on Thursday evening. “It was a big match for both of us and a good win for me. I messed up a chance to go 4-1 up, then he had the momentum at 4-3. I just tried to dig in and eventually got it done. I’ll need to improve in my next match.

“If I do qualify for Llandudno, the extra £20,000 (guaranteed to first round losers) will also help in terms of making sure of my Crucible place. The win today might have been worth something like £50,000. That will help me do the garden up – I need to put fake grass in because when my son kicks the football around he gets mud everywhere!”

Evening session:

Judd Trump came from 5-2 down to beat Jack Lisowski 6-5 at the Coral Players Championship, becoming the first player into the semi-finals in Preston.

Lisowski looked set to beat his close friend but missed chances in the closing stages as Trump battled back and sealed victory with a century in the decider.  The Ace in the Pack goes through to meet Neil Robertson or Mark  Williams at the Guild Hall on Friday evening (limited number of tickets still available, for details click here).

Bristol’s Trump is enjoying the best season of his career having won the Masters and two ranking titles, including last month’s Coral World Grand Prix. Victory this week and at the Coral Tour Championship would see him complete the Coral Slam and earn a total of £500,000 – he is now just five matches away from that cash bonanza.

Lisowski made a top break of 81 and won several scrappy frames as he went 5-2 ahead, Trump’s only responses coming with runs of 106 and 70 in frames three and six. The tide turned as world number five Trump made breaks of 75 and 51 in recovering to 5-5.

Early in the decider, Lisowski had a scoring chance after his opponent had gone in off, but after potting one red he attempted a risky thin cut on the black to a top corner and missed his target. Trump made him pay with an excellent 113.

“At 5-2 I felt the game was going against me, Jack had the run of the balls,” said 29-year-old Trump, who has now made 62 centuries this season, more than any other player. “In the last couple of frames it turned around.  The break in the last frame wasn’t easy, the balls were awkward.

“I take massive pleasure from beating anyone from 5-2 down, but it is bittersweet against Jack. I’m disappointed for him because if he had beaten me he could have gone on to win the title and that could have been his big break through. But I still have to try my heart out when I’m out there and do anything possible to try to come back and win. It’s nice to be in with a chance of winning another tournament.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be on this winning run, I don’t know how long it’s going to last. To have sustained this form over nearly a whole season is very pleasing. I love the challenge of competing against top players and World Champions so I’m looking forward to my next match.”

Asked about the tough black Lisowski went for in the last frame, Trump said: “You have to weigh up your options at the time. He had been shut out for three frames so maybe he didn’t have the confidence to really go for it. I’ve done it plenty of times in the past and people have questioned my shot choices. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. Maybe he could have studied the situation and what had happened before and picked another shot, but I’m not going to criticise his shot choice.”

The result means that Lisowski is now out of the running in the race to qualify for the eight-man Coral Tour Championship in Llandudno, which runs from March 19-24.

Really Jack could and should have beaten Judd. But the signs were there already early in frame eight: he started to miss balls he potted easily before. He looked tense and indecisive over the shots. Jack has found it difficult to beat top players on the big stages in the past. Maybe he could benefit from some help with the mental aspect of winning. That said, Judd was very patient and applied himself, he didn’t take any flashy shots before frames were definitely won.

I didn’t see much of the Higgins v Selby match, just the last frame and a half, so it’s difficult to comment. From what I saw Higgins was very solid tactically. From the commentary it seems that both players got to a slow start. It will be important for Ronnie to start well and put Higgins under pressure early in their quarter-final. In my opinion Ronnie tends to give Higgins a bit too much respect.