Day 2 at Ally Pally saw wins for John Higgins and Barry Hawkins. Although I expected this outcome, I felt disappointed at the end of the day. Neither match was close.
Here are the reports by WST:
Higgins Celebrates Record Appearance
John Higgins marked a record 28th appearance in snooker’s biggest invitation event by beating Zhao Xintong 6-2 in the first round of the Cazoo Masters.
Higgins first took the stage in this prestigious event back in 1995 and has since been ever-present. He was previously tied with Steve Davis and Jimmy White on 27 appearances but now holds that record on his own. At the age of 46 he is ranked sixth in the world and it’s easy to see the all-time legend keeping his place among the top 16 for many years to come and extending that record.
Today he outmaneuvered a player 22 years his junior as he booked a place in the quarter-finals at Alexandra Palace. Zhao was making his debut in the event having leapt into the top 16 by winning the Cazoo UK Championship last month. The Chinese ace showed early promise today with a century in the second frame, but then couldn’t maintain a foothold in the contest as his opponent pulled away.
Higgins is into the quarter-finals of this event for the 15th time and faces an intriguing clash with fellow veteran Mark Williams on Thursday evening. The Scot has been this season’s most consistent player so far, reaching four finals but losing all four, and he will be determined to capture his first silverware of the campaign.
Today’s match opened with fireworks from both players as Higgins made a break of 100 in the opening frame then Zhao responded with a 128, the new front-runner for the £15,000 high break prize. Zhao scored just 22 points in the next three frames as Higgins surged 4-1 ahead with a top run of 104.
Frame six went Zhao’s way but when he missed a risky long red in the seventh, trailing 24-8, he let Higgins in for a run of 30 which proved enough for 5-2. And two critical safety errors from Zhao in the eighth ended his hopes of a fight-back, as Higgins punished him with breaks of 39 and 78 to seal the result.
“Zhao is such a special talent, he makes it look ridiculously easy, the way he strokes the ball in,” said four-time World Champion Higgins. “I was just trying to make it difficult for him. He missed a couple that he usually wouldn’t miss and that gave me confidence, and I played pretty well. The table played well and it’s the best arena that anyone can play in.
“All of the top 16 are lucky to be here and anyone else will be desperate to be here next year. It’s neck and neck with the Crucible as an arena. They are different – the Crucible has more history – but this place is special.
“It’s a healthy rivalry I have with Mark Williams. Maybe ten or 15 years ago we were both in the top four and we were fighting for the same titles. We have both dropped down now and we can still win events. I look across at him now and think I have shared a snooker table with him for 30 years. It’s admiration on my part when I look at Mark and Ronnie O’Sullivan, that they are still playing to an unbelievable level. To play him in such an iconic arena, I can’t wait for Thursday night.
“Ronnie has moved into the stratosphere with Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry in terms of their records and me and Mark are a bit below.”
Zhao said: “John played really well. When I made a century in the second frame I thought I could win. But after that he didn’t give me many chances. I felt a bit of pressure, I was trying to focus on every ball, but John played too well. It’s a great venue, I hope I will be back here next year.”
I was hoping for a better performance by Zhao and a closer match. Ally Pally is a fantastic venue but it’s quite unique. The atmosphere in there is electric. The only other venue that compares with it is the Tempodrom in Berlin. It can be overwhelming I suppose, especially when it’s your first time there. John Higgins played extremely well indeed for most of the match, although his level dipped a bit towards the end. It’s a strange thing with John: I understand how fantastically well he plays, I admire his skills and game but he doesn’t excite me. I won’t go as far as saying that he bores me but… Maybe it’s because he shows very little emotions? I’m not sure why it doesn’t click for me but I know that I’m not the only one.
Hawk Soars To Beat Murphy
Barry Hawkins preserved his 100 percent record against Shaun Murphy at the Cazoo Masters, scoring a comfortable 6-2 win to reach the quarter-finals.
Hawkins and Murphy have met on three occasions at Alexandra Palace, each time in the opening round. The Hawk was victorious by a 6-1 scoreline in 2017 and also won 6-2 in 2019.
Although Hawkins holds the edge over Murphy at the Masters, he still trails the 2005 World Champion 10-4 in the head-to-head standings.
Londoner Hawkins missed out on the Masters 12 months ago, after dropping out of the world’s top 16. However, an impressive return to form in 2021 saw him reach four ranking event semi-finals, including the Cazoo UK Championship before Christmas, to return to the sport’s top tier.
By contrast Murphy has struggled to find his form this season, despite being World Championship runner-up at the end of the previous campaign. The Magician failed to secure his place in the top 32 of the one-year list before Christmas and as a result missed out on the Cazoo World Grand Prix. He now heads to Berlin later this month for the German Masters.
Hawkins took the opener this evening with a break of 65, before Murphy restored parity with a run of 69 to make it 1-1. Murphy then hit the front by winning the third and Hawkins claimed the fourth to head into the mid-session all-square at 2-2.
When play resumed 2015 Masters winner Murphy looked to be in a strong position to regain the lead. He was 54-4 in front when he missed a pink to the right middle. That cost him dearly, with Hawkins compiling a run of 60 to take the frame on the final pink.
That was the moment the Hawk pounced at the winning line. A further three on the bounce followed, including breaks of 103 and 69, to wrap up the 6-2 victory. He now faces the winner of Mark Selby and Stephen Maguire in the quarter-finals.
“Most of the season I feel like I’ve struggled to find rhythm or flow. I just tried to go out there and play my natural game tonight. I was going for the first shot I saw and upped the tempo. That is what worked in the end and I felt good in myself,” said 42-year-old Hawkins.
“I played well tonight and I’ve played well before here. Maybe it is just the occasion. It is a local tournament and a massive occasion. Sometimes I get up for it more than I do the other events. Shaun is a great player, I can’t see why I do well against him here but his head-to-head is 10-4. I just seem to have it on him here really.
“I think everyone is happy to be out and seeing live sport. There is no better feeling than playing well in front of a packed crowd on a big occasion. Playing behind closed doors was quite demoralising. I should imagine that was the same for every sport. You need the fans in for sport or it doesn’t work.”
Murphy said: “After the interval I thought he played like a possible winner of the tournament. He was very very good and he doesn’t make many mistakes. Losing the fourth and fifth frames took the wind out of my sales and in the end he picked me off.”
Ahead of the match, Shaun Murphy had been speaking with Phil Haigh about the extent of his neck and shoulder injuries and how they are impacting his game and his career. It was there for all to see yesterday that he was in discomfort, and that his stance when low on the shot wasn’t what it should be. Maybe he should play every shot with the rest? Only joking of course but those were actually the only shots where he looked comfortable and he’s excellent with the rest.
That said, Barry was his reliable solid self and always a danger no matter who he plays.