John Higgins moved into the quarter-final of the Champion of Champions with a 4-0 whitewash win over Northern Ireland Open finalist Chris Wakelin to set up a clash with Ding Junhui.
The 2016 winner was far from his best – but he did not have to be to overcome a below-par Wakelin, who had an afternoon to forget in Bolton.
Higgins will play Ding Junhui, who beat Zhang Anda, on Wednesday evening.
The Wizard of Wishaw wasted little time in securing the opening frame with a fine break of 70 after the veteran sent out a message of his confidence with a brave long blue. And although he failed to seal the frame on that visit, he was relieved to see a miscue from his opponent – a moment that would ultimately set the tone for Wakelin’s afternoon.
The second frame was a scrappy affair, but it was Higgins who prevailed after some wastefulness from both men. The most glaring miss came from Wakelin on a pink to the middle pocket, and once Higgins got his nose in front, he took complete control with another stunning long pot to put the frame out of reach.
The writing was on the wall as Higgins got back amongst the balls with a break of 54, and another couple of visits from the 48-year-old left Wakelin requiring snookers. He was not able to make a fight of it as Higgins marched into the last eight having barely broken sweat.
Reflecting on his win with ITV, Higgins felt the pink Wakelin missed in the second frame “unsettled him”.
“And then things went from bad to worse, he was getting the bad flicks,” Higgins continued.
“In a best-to-seven match, that can be the difference. I’m delighted to win but I need to play better.”
On his overall form, Higgins said: “I feel good about in and about the balls, it’s just really that I’m a little short here and there that’s catching me out, maybe positionally wise. But I played pretty solid.
“It’s funny, you get a little bit excited about some of your form and then you might run into a match. That’s just the way it is when you get a little bit older, you might have a few more bad days than good. I don’t know.”
Relieved Ding survives stunning comeback to beat Zhang
It looked as though Ding was going to book his place in the last-eight in double-quick time as he eased to a 3-0 lead over compatriot Zhang, including a rapid century break to take the third.
However, the 14-time ranking event winner opened the door for a comeback as he missed numerous chances to wrap up the match in the fourth.
Zhang took that frame, and then overturned a huge deficit in the fifth with a remarkable clearance to make it 3-2.
By now, the momentum of the match had swung his way, and with Ding looking nervy, Zhang duly cantered through the sixth to set up a decider.
Three-time UK Championship winner Ding then raced into a 53-8 lead, only to miss a red with the rest, which he bashed with his cue in frustration.
Zhang nearly made him pay, compiling a remarkable break of 51 to take a six-point lead with just 13 points left on the table.
However, it was Ding who had the first potting attempt at the pink, and after sinking that, he wrapped up victory with a tough black off its spot.
Speaking to ITV, the victor said: “He started playing well at 3-0 and I missed chances in every frame, even the last frame where I rushed myself.
“He came back strongly and played so good. It’s a good win today but I didn’t play that good.”
Meanwhile former world champion Ken Doherty described the game as “the most incredible best-of-seven match I’ve ever seen,” adding “it had everything. Ding was one ball away four times from winning the match.
“Zhang pulled off an unbelievable clearance to keep his hopes alive. To finish on the black was the icing on the cake.”
He goes through to face Higgins in the quarter-finals later on Wednesday evening.
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