John Higgins said he was “struggling to breathe” due to the pressure during his first round clash with Tian Pengfei, but ultimately rallied from 7-4 down to win 10-7 at the Betfred World Championship.
The Scot admitted that despite being a four-time winner at the Theatre of Dreams, he isn’t immune to feeling the heat inside Sheffield’s Crucible.
Higgins came into this week having shown signs of his best form this season. The 31-time ranking event winner was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Betfred Masters and produced scintillating snooker to win the Cazoo Players Championship, beating Ronnie O’Sullivan in the final.
However, that form didn’t translate into his first round showing here. An edgy opening session was pulled off early with China’s Tian leading 4-3.
When they returned this afternoon it was Tian who continued to set the pace. The 33-year-old made breaks of 55, 61 and 57 on his way to opening up a 7-4 advantage.
Higgins began his fightback by securing a 32-minute 12th frame to gain a foothold in the tie. A break of 61 helped him to pull within one, before he restored parity and made it 7-7.
A colours clearance of 27 saw Higgins dramatically claim the 15th frame on the black to lead 8-7 and he compounded Tian’s misery with a break of 127 to move to the verge of victory at 9-7. At that point the players were pulled off to allow the evening session to get underway.
Higgins made light work of finishing off the win when play got back underway, firing in a sublime run of 135 to earn a second round clash with either Mark Williams or Sam Craigie.
“That was a whole range of what I’ve been through over 27 years here. Some good, some bad, some embarrassing. I’m delighted to get through, I dodged a big bullet there,” said 45-year-old Higgins. “The first round is always the most pressurised game each year. That is what I always feel. When you get that out of the way, you can relax into the tournament.
“I was actually struggling to breathe at one point. I don’t know what happened, that’s just what this theatre does to you. I think I stopped breathing for a few frames, but it was good to get through.
“When you are struggling mentally it is tough. I’ll take the positives. I finished it off pretty decently with a couple of 100 breaks. I’ll try to grasp on to that and get a couple of days practising in.”