JOHN Higgins came from behind to win a last-frame decider and book his place in this year’s world snooker championship final with a 17-16 victory over David Gilbert on Saturday.
The four-time champion will now face Judd Trump in a repeat of the 2011 final – a match Higgins won 18-15.
But the Scot insisted English cueman Trump, who beat qualifier Gary Wilson 17-11 in the other semi-final, was a much improved player since his only previous appearance in a World Championship final at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
“Judd is an unbelievable all-round player now, while when I played him in 2011 he was just crash, bang, wallop and normally they were going in,” said Higgins of the then 21-year-old Trump.
“I’ll be playing a different Judd Trump. The way he dismantled [Ronnie] O’Sullivan in the Masters has given him the confidence to come here as one of the favourites.”
Higgins, 10-6 behind at one stage in this semi-final, made it 16-16 with a total clearance break of 139. And the 43-year-old then seized his chance when Gilbert missed a black in the deciding frame to complete victory with a break of 55.
This win was in marked contrast to Higgins’ second-round defeat at the UK Championships late last year that left him contemplating retirement.
“I was at a low ebb around Christmas – probably the lowest ebb I’ve ever been in playing the game,” Higgins said after his tense win.
Gilbert extended his lead with a break of 105 in Saturday’s opening frame.
But Higgins then won four in a row to lead for the first time since the fifth frame at 15-14.
Gilbert, admirably, levelled at 15-15 with a break of 78 before moving to within a frame of victory following a safety exchange.
The knowledge he’d twice blown a five-frame lead seemed to overwhelm the unheralded Englishman at his post-match press conference, with Gilbert breaking down in tears.
“I’m absolutely gutted to lose,” he said. “I could have got to a world final but I’ve got nothing to feel sad about.
“I came here with no expectations and to end up on the one table against a legend like John, it was an honour.”
Trump, 9-7 ahead overnight, moved into a 14-10 lead during Saturday’s morning session.
He wasted little time in the evening, with breaks of 97 and 88 ending the surprise run of former taxi driver Wilson.