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John Higgins blames Crucible pressure for first-round performance

:Headline: John Higgins blames Crucible pressure for first-round performance:
Ding Junhui built a 5-4 overnight advantage over former champion Stuart Bingham.
Sports Mole

John Higgins blamed the suffocating Crucible pressure for his poor performance despite battling his way into the second round of the World Snooker Championship with a 10-7 win over China’s Tian Pengfei.

The four-time champion hit back from 7-4 behind to win six frames on the spin, belatedly finding his form in a match that twice went over its allotted schedule time by completing his victory with two consecutive centuries.

It may be the 45-year-old’s 27th appearance at the Crucible but, despite his colossal experience, Higgins admitted the venue’s weight of history was still impossible to ignore.

Higgins said: “It’s this place that does it – I think I stopped breathing a few times out there. That’s what it does to you – the pressure can be that intense.

“It was a poor game by me and I’ve dodged a bullet there big time because Tian had enough chances to beat me. I’ve brought him down to my level and it’s a big relief.”

Higgins’ compatriot Anthony McGill proved he had no Crucible hangover from his agonising semi-final defeat eight months ago as he cruised into the second round with a 10-5 win over Ricky Walden.

Anthony McGill showed no ill effects from last year’s semi-final loss (George Wood/PA)

McGill’s previous appearance at the famous venue culminated in one of the most remarkable passages of play in snooker history as he lost his last-four decider to Kyren Wilson in a frame with a total combined score of 186.

The 30-year-old Scot declined an invitation by Eurosport to appear in a special programme about the frame in the build-up to this year’s tournament but insisted: “It didn’t hit me hard at all, and I was over it five minutes afterwards.

“I was asked (to appear in the programme) but I didn’t want to. I was over it, but that frame still cost me one hundred grand so I don’t really want to sit down and talk about it fondly.”

Resuming with a slender 5-4 advantage over his fellow former semi-finalist, McGill extended his lead with back-to-back breaks of 83 and 130 before a 98 from Walden reduced the deficit.

But McGill responded to close out the match with three frames in a row, including two more half-centuries, to set up a last-eight meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan.

“I’ll just try to play my own game,” said McGill. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who’s got the aura that Ronnie’s got – he’s the best ever and I’m really looking forward to it.

Ding Junhui built a slender lead over Stuart Bingham (George Wood/PA)

“I won’t approach the match any differently. I can only play as well as I can play, and if the other guy is too good then that’s fine.”

Wilson, eventually beaten in last year’s final by O’Sullivan, was forced to battle for a 10-8 first round win over Gary Wilson.

Kyren Wilson trailed 5-1 in the early stages but hit back with three centuries to wrest the match in his favour, and despite a gallant effort from the underdog, the Welshman completed a cool 73 break to avoid another decider.

Kyren Wilson battled to victory over Gary Wilson (George Wood/PA)

Ding Junhui built a 5-4 overnight advantage over former champion Stuart Bingham, despite breaks of 131 and 129 helping Bingham establish a 3-1 lead.

Ding, the world number nine and runner-up at the Crucible to Mark Selby in 2016, produced clearances of 105 and 86 levelled the match, and nicked the ninth frame on a fluked final black.

Fourteenth seed Jack Lisowski fought back from 3-1 down to fashion a 5-4 overnight advantage over former finalist Ali Carter.

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