John Higgins put in a poor performance as he went down 6-3 to China’s Cao Yupeng in the last 32 of the International Championship today.
As if to underline the content of my article on repeating champions and consistency from last week, Shanghai Masters champion Higgins could not rediscover the form that brought him to that ranking glory only a few weeks ago.
A key moment in today’s match was when Higgins was on the verge of going 3-1 up at the interval only to fail to pot the green and his opponent eventually cleared to pinch the frame – something that would become a trademark play in the clash overall.
At 5-3 down, Higgins had opportunities to get back into the tie but an outrageous fluke set his opponent up for the triumph – one that he duly took to advance to the second round to the delight of his home crowd.
21 year-old Cao made headlines last season when, in his first year on the Main Tour, he embarked on a magical run to the last 16 of the World Championship in Sheffield.
Many questioned whether he would be a one-hit wonder but the youngster put any such queries to bed when he reached the same stage at the Australian Open and, despite not being at his best, he has matched those performances again in Chengdu already this week.
World no.1 Mark Selby had no such troubles as he overcame World Championship runner-up Ali Carter 6-3 in what was, on paper anyway, the tie of the round.
While not picking up as many trophies as people think should be requisite in order to reach the summit of the rankings list, Selby has done so by consistently progressing past the opening round of tournaments carrying ranking points.
In saying that, the ‘Jester from Leicester’ was on the losing end of last 32 encounters with Jamies Burnett and Cope in Australia and Shanghai – which has ultimately threatened his elevated position.
Both Judd Trump and Higgins were breathing down his throat but with the Scot already out, Selby might be fancying his chances now of extending his coveted status.
Elsewhere, Welshman Matthew Stevens avoided a major scare as he edged past 15 year-old Zhao Xintong in a deciding frame thriller.
Teenager Zhao, who had already knocked out Ken Doherty in the wildcard round, went for every pot available as he came from 4-1 down to force the final frame shoot-out.
He enjoyed a couple of chances to succumb Stevens to one of his worst ever defeats but the former UK champion was finally able to get over the winning line – to his evident relief as he puffed his cheeks at the game’s conclusion.
Countryman Dominic Dale enjoyed a slightly more comfortable passage into the second round as he ousted former world champion Graeme Dott 6-3.
In the final match of the wildcard round, Barry Pinches became the third professional casualty as he went down 6-5 to Chinese amateur Lu Ning.
The full draw and list of results can be viewed by clicking here.