John Higgins and Noppon Saengkham will face each other in the second round of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.
John Higgins’ season so far
What a strange season it has been for John Higgins.
For the majority of other players on the Main Tour, his record during this term would be something to envy.
But for Higgins, there will be a huge chunk of regret at what might have been on so many occasions.
The Wizard of Wishaw has featured in six finals but has only managed to claim silverware in the behind-closed-doors invitational edition of the Championship League.
Elsewhere, there have been runners-up finishes in the Northern Ireland Open, English Open, Scottish Open, Champion of Champions, and the Tour Championship.
In three of those title deciders, he threw away leads when within the brink of glory – none more heartbreaking than in the recent Tour Championship when he surrendered a 9-4 advantage against Neil Robertson.
Higgins remains one of the sport’s very best and is, of course, a four-time former world champion.
However, his streak of misery in finals actually began with his hat-trick of final defeats in Sheffield between 2017 and 2019.
The 46 year-old may be able to get himself into the position to challenge again, but does he still possess the inner belief required to finish the job when it matters most?
Noppon Saengkham’s season so far
It hasn’t been a strong season for Saengkham, who represents one of the ultimate nice guys of the game.
A run to the last 16 of the UK Championship was as good as it got, although that was timed well considering the extra ranking points available in York.
Indeed, the £30,000 he has guaranteed himself so far in Sheffield this month means that he’s pushing for a place among the top 32 again.
Saengkham recorded two solid victories in the World Championship qualifiers, including one against recent Gibraltar Open champion Robert Milkins.
What happened in the last 32?
Higgins compiled three century breaks in his 10-7 triumph over Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, but it was a lacklustre display overall.
If the Scot had have been playing an opponent capable of inflicting more punishment, he would have been in serious trouble.
As it was, Un-Nooh was once again all style and no substance, and Higgins safely booked his spot in the last 16.
For Saengkham, the 29 year-old qualifier thoroughly outplayed Scottish Open champion Luca Brecel for a resounding 10-5 success.
John Higgins and Noppon Saengkham have played each other eight times in all competitions, and somewhat surprisingly they boast four victories apiece.
Their most recent battle came in this season’s German Masters qualifiers when the latter hit a brace of tons to conjure a 5-2 triumph.
Having already dispatched of one Thai favourite, Higgins has the task of repeating the trick against one of the most likable characters on the circuit.
Against Brecel, Saengkham was able to take advantage of the Belgian’s poor safety but those opportunities are unlikely to manifest so frequently against Higgins.
On his only previous visit to the last 16, he came agonisingly close to victory only to be denied in a 13-12 decider by Mark Selby.
Even though Higgins looked a touch vulnerable in the first round, Saengkham will do very well to get that close again here.
Prediction: John Higgins 13-7 Noppon Saengkham
Sunday, April 24th – 10am and 7pm
Monday, April 25th – 1pm
Featured photo credit: WST