Higgins talks up Ding’s Crucible chances

John Higgins in action against Ding Junhui.
John Higgins in action against Ding Junhui.
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Four-time world champion John Higgins lost 13-9 to Ding Junhui at the Crucible, and then nominated his second-round conqueror as a “big, big danger” to all at this year’s tournament.

Higgins was 5-1 up at one stage in the Betfred World Championship tussle but had no answer to Ding’s late surge as the Chinese player came out well on top in the end on Saturday.

Higgins rates Ding’s control of the white ball as better than anyone’s apart from six-time world champion Steve Davis, at his best, and has no doubt he has the credentials to beat everyone this year.

“I let him off the hook when I was 5-1 in front,” said the Scot.

“I missed a red, and from then on he was clinical.

“He never let his head drop, and he came back into it ... and then played clinical, clinical stuff.”

Comparisons with Davis are eye-catching.

“He reminds you of Steve Davis in his prime, his cue-ball control,” added Higgins.

“It’s the best probably since Davis.

“He makes everything look ridiculously easy, and he made a couple of pressure clearances.

“I think it probably means he’s maybe ready to win the world title.”

Ding had to dig in, with Higgins regularly building breaks but often failing to close out frames.

“He seems as if he’s ready to tough it out,” said Higgins.

“His all-round game, his safety play and everything was top notch as well.

“He’s a big, big danger to win this tournament, I think.”

Ding, ominously, believes he can improve.

“I’m playing well, and keep scoring heavily, and won frames after he made 50 breaks,” he said.

“I hope I’m going to win the tournament. I believe I can ... I have the form to win any tournament.

“I think I can play better.”

Higgins, 39, had looked sharp in his opening win over Rob Milkins, and recently picked up the Welsh Open title to end a two-and-a-half-year barren run.

When he opened up his substantial leads over Ding, it seemed the champion of 1998, 2007, 2009 and 2011 would kick on to reach the last eight.

But instead Ding struck back, and led 9-7 heading into the last session - nudging closer to the winning line with breaks of 63 and 89, and soon closing out the match.

Higgins admits he was second best to a very good opponent, who will play either Judd Trump or Marco Fu in his quarter-final.

“My concentration in the last session was very poor,” he told reporters at a press conference.

“I must have made a few 40s or 50s during the match, and ended up losing those frames.

“You just can’t afford to do that against the top, top boys.

“I’ve no complaints. They punish you heavily, and that’s what happened to me.”

Higgins would love to see Ding face Anthony McGill in this year’s final.

McGill, second-round conqueror of defending champion Mark Selby, is a rising star - and compatriot of Higgins, who said: “I hope he [Ding] plays ‘Ants’ in the final.

“Obviously, I’d be rooting for wee ‘Ants’ to win it. But if ‘Ants’ doesn’t, I’d love to see Ding win it.”

Graeme Dott, the 2006 champion, will not be winning this year - after bowing out 13-5 to Stuart Bingham.

Dott’s elimination means, against significant odds, McGill is the only Scot left in contention to take the 2015 title.

Bingham’s route to glory looks a tough one, with a quarter-final against either five-time champion Ronnie O’Sullivan or twice runner-up Matthew Stevens next.