Crucible latest: Higgins one frame away from final return

John Higgins was on the brink of his sixth Betfred World Championship final as he punished an out-of-sorts Barry Hawkins in Sheffield.

John Higgins at the table in his semi final match against Barry Hawkins.
John Higgins at the table in his semi final match against Barry Hawkins.

The four-time champion moved from 10-6 ahead at the start of the day to 16-8 in front without playing anywhere near his best, and almost won through with a session to spare.

Instead he was left requiring one frame upon the evening resumption to clinch a shot at either Mark Selby or Ding Junhui for snooker’s most coveted trophy and the £375,000 reward.

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Hawkins had an awful session. The left-hander felt he had been struggling in his quarter-final victory over Stephen Maguire and in a session where he needed to raise his performance level, instead it hit the floor.

He began well enough, with a break of 69 making an immediate dent in the Higgins lead.

The four-frame cushion was soon restored, but Hawkins should have pulled back to 11-8 only to miss pink to the middle pocket and let Higgins off the hook.

Kent cueman Hawkins has been to three previous semi-finals but his experience of those matches was undetectable in the manner of his display.

Coached by Terry Griffiths, Hawkins urgently needed words of wisdom from the Welshman at the interval after sliding 13-7 adrift.

Griffiths, the 1979 world champion, is also working with Ding, whose semi-final against Selby was set to resume in the afternoon. That contest was tied at 12-12, with its standard having been streets ahead of the tussle between Higgins and Hawkins.

Another missed pink was to cost Hawkins dearly after the interval. Leading 62-4 and urgently needing to get frames on the board, he missed to the right corner, sucking on his thumb afterwards as he stepped back in disbelief. And even though Higgins could not clear up in one visit, he soon made his labouring opponent pay.

Despite not making a 50 break over the first six frames of the day, Higgins won five in that sequence to pull 15-7 ahead, two short of victory with two frames remaining in the session.

When Higgins strung a fluent 90 together, that meant just one was required.

Hawkins gave a wry smile when after carefully plotting a plant, he sank the intended red but also saw the white drop in the opposite pocket. His race looked to be run, but against the flow of play he made a 58 break to extend the match into a fourth session.