Champion Higgins in trouble as Hendry pulls away

Defending Crucible champion John Higgins stands one frame away from a second-round defeat to seven-times winner Stephen Hendry at the Betfred.com World Championship.

On a big day for Scotland in Sheffield, Hendry was well in charge against four-time winner Higgins in their long-awaited first Crucible meeting.

He surged 12-4 in front as Higgins’s game, which brought glory in the final against Judd Trump last May, looked to have deserted him. It means Hendry just needs one more frame to secure a quarter-final spot when the match resumes this afternoon.

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Higgins warned he was playing poorly as the tournament approached, but it was hard to believe the Crucible environment he treasures would not bring the best out of the 36-year-old Scot.

And yet Higgins looked hopelessly rusty in the second-round contest, missing most remotely difficult balls and some utterly routine pots too. The same had applied in the first round when he edged past Liang Wenbo in a deciding frame.

Hendry would certainly not have expected to be gifted so many openings, and to win his frames last night he always needed several visits.

It was not the fluent Hendry of vintage Nineties form, but nor did it need to be.

He was 3-2 behind at one stage in the morning, after Higgins made a break of 124, but Hendry, whose last world title came in 1999, reeled off three in a row to go to his lunch happy.

Last night the onus was on Higgins to at least stay in touch, at no more than two frames behind, but the challenge was beyond him as Hendry looked poised to earn a first ranking event win over his fellow Scot since the 2003 British Open semi-finals.

Stephen Maguire looks like joining Hendry in the last eight as he leads Joe Perry 11-5 when they resume today. Neil Robertson is already in the quarter-finals after a 13-9 win over David Gilbert.

China will stage its most lucrative snooker tournament next season and pay out the third highest top prize on tour.

The new International Championship will pay its winner £125,000, beating the sum on offer at the UK Championship and putting it behind only the World Championship and Masters.

The ranking tournament, China’s fifth, will take place from October 28 to November 4.