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Higgins Sets up Gilbert Final Clash

John Higgins is into the final of the International Championship after a 9-4 victory over Mark Selby on Saturday in China.

Higgins beat Martin Gould 9-8 to win the Australian Open this season - photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

Higgins beat Martin Gould 9-8 to win the Australian Open this season – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

The four-time world champion was in punishing form throughout the semi-final clash with the world no.1, capitalising on most of Selby’s errors with hard match snooker.

Although it came early on the encounter, the defining moment of the match arguably came in the sixth frame when Higgins already boasted a 4-1 lead thanks to breaks of 101, 87 and 56.

Selby had an opportunity to reduce the gap but, despite a 50 point lead, Higgins reeled the 2014 world champion in with a trademark clearance that typified the Scotsman’s return to form.

Even though Selby notched the final two frames of the session to ensure he was only two down at the interval, the psychological damage of being guaranteed to make a mountainous comeback had been founded.

This escalated further at the outset of the evening bout of play, when runs of 64 and 54 helped Higgins double his advantage, before the four-time world champion, which included a Crucible final defeat of Selby in 2007, edged a tight eleventh to go one away from Sunday’s showdown with David Gilbert.

Selby fought gallantly to the end and briefly threatened with a 79 break but could not build on any fleeting momentum as Higgins completed what was a lot more comfortable a victory than had been predicted.

A lot of that had to do with Selby not producing his A-game but the majority of it was a result of a Higgins who is beginning to look somewhat like the dominant force of old.

Tomorrow, the 40 year-old will be in search of his second ranking event of the season following success in the Australian Open, and third overall in 2015 adding the Welsh Open.

Higgins will be the overwhelming favourite against Englishman Gilbert, who will be contesting this stage for the first time in his career.

It’d be wrong to completely rule out the 34 year-old, though, and one only has to point toward Martin Gould’s narrowest of defeats to Higgins in Bendigo during the summer, or Kyren Wilson’s recent triumph in the Shanghai Masters over Judd Trump, for proof that the underdog can, and often does, compete well.

On this occasion, it’ll be a case of challenging not only one of the best in the game currently, but a player who is in the conversation mixer of greatest of all-time.

With £125,000 at stake for the champion, there’s bound to be some fireworks either way.

Creator of SnookerHQ and a journalism graduate, David has been actively reporting on snooker since 2011. He has been published in national publications and has appeared on BBC World News and on talkSPORT radio as an analyst.