Higgins Battles Through Liang Test

John Higgins and Neil Robertson completed the quarter-final line-up on Wednesday after coming through their respective opening tests in the Masters.

John Higgins Masters 16
Higgins won the prestigious title in 1999 and 2006 – photo courtesy of Monique Limbos.

In a day that almost mirrored Tuesday’s action, Higgins first had to emerge from a tight high-quality tussle with Liang Wenbo before Australia’s Robertson enjoyed an easier time of it by whitewashing Marco Fu.

Liang was competing in his debut Masters at the Alexandra Palace after breaking into the top 16 following his superb run to the UK Championship final a month ago.

Nobody was sure if he would be able to stand up to the unique pressures of the single table set-up in front of a packed auditorium, while also up against a two-time former champion.

However, both Liang and Higgins produced a fine display of break building throughout an entertaining affair that really should have went the distance.

Higgins compiled excellent runs of 119, 104 – where he missed the 14th red while on a maximum break – and a 133 but still found himself level at 4-4 as his tenacious Chinese challenger, buoyed by his long potting proficiency, ensured that it wasn’t going to be straightforward.

Scotland’s Higgins, who has a mixed record in the event after losing half of his previous 22 first round appearances, orchestrated an 85 to go to within one before an edgy 10th frame went down to the colours.

It looked as though Liang was set to force the deciding frame but unexpectedly missed a green along the bottom cushion to allow the ‘Wizard of Wishaw’ in for a match-winning clearance.

Like Mark Selby following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s dramatic victory the day before, Robertson wasted no time in becoming the last man to reach the last eight as he romped to a comfortable 6-0 evening triumph over an unwell Fu.

Robertson, a finalist three times in the last four years, coasted with breaks of 106, 73, 57 and 54 to set up a mouthwatering tie with Judd Trump.

Indeed, all the quarter-finals look like they could be close battles with any one of them able to stake a claim to capture the trophy on Sunday.

There will be two played on Thursday with first up the eagerly anticipated encounter between O’Sullivan and Selby.

While generally displaying respect for one another, the pair have built up an obvious rivalry over the course of the last decade, with several of their most high-profile duels coming in this very tournament.

Of course, their last meeting overall was in the 2014 World Championship final, which will inflict painful memories for the ‘Rocket’ as he surrendered a big lead to ultimately be denied a sixth Crucible crown.

This tie is really down to how O’Sullivan starts.

If he goes ahead or at least can stay with Selby throughout then he is obviously in with a great chance, yet if he falls even a couple of frames behind it would be a major concern for his legion of fans.

By contrast, Selby could be any number of frames down and still in with a shout, such is his ability to master brinkmanship.

The second contest on Thursday sees Mark Allen face Barry Hawkins.

Allen will be the clear favourite here, particularly as Hawkins doesn’t boast a very good record in the Masters.

He may be boosted by his maiden victory against Perry but this represents another considerable opportunity for Northern Ireland’s Allen to reach a major semi-final, and potentially beyond, and one he should be able to grasp.

Either way, the excitement that the Masters generates is about to multiply.

Click here to view the draw.

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