John Higgins held his nerve in a nail-biting decider to edge out David Gilbert 17-16 and win through to a third consecutive World Championship final at The Crucible on Saturday.
Higgins found himself 8-3, 10-6 and 14-11 behind in an epic contest, but dug deep to edge through in the most dramatic of circumstances and progress to his eighth world final.
Gilbert, who had won just one match in three previous Crucible campaigns, looked on course to secure a fairy-tale first appearance in a World Championship final, but suffered heartbreak at the death.
Higgins will now face either Judd Trump or Gary Wilson in the sport’s show-piece fixture – which gets underway on Sunday afternoon.
“I don’t know how I got through,” admitted an emotional Higgins. “I apologised to David because I brought him down to my level, I was very poor and he let me off the hook in the first three sessions.
“He should have been 15-9 or 16-8 ahead. I was over the moon to be only 13-11 behind.
“My concentration was wavering, I was playing shots and thinking, ‘What did I just do there?’
“I could have really thrown the towel in during the first three sessions, I was getting so annoyed with myself, but wanted to just try and hang in.
“It is tough to do and I was lucky in the last session. I have seen him [Gilbert], he is really upset but he will be back.”
Gilbert led 13-11 going into the final session and began superbly with a break of 105 to extend his lead.
Higgins, however, turned the tide with four consecutive frames, making breaks of 52, 74 ad 96 along the way, to move in front for the first time since the sixth frame.
Gilbert, though, responded strongly with successive breaks of 78 and 53 to wrestle back the upper-hand at 16-15, but only for Higgins to pile in a vintage clearance of 139 to send it all the way.
A breath-taking decider produced chances for both players, but after Gilbert failed to seize his and broke down on 28, Higgins made a telling 55 and held his nerve in a tense safety battle to seal a memorable win.
Gilbert, a former potato farmer, broke down in tears during his post-match TV interview but was full of praise for the granite Scotsman.
“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Gilbert. “I want to give credit to John – what a warrior he is.
“It was an honour to play John, he’s a legend, absolutely classy. I’m gutted to lose but I’ve got nothing to feel really sad about. I think I lost the game last night.
“It’s been brilliant. As soon as we get home we’re still going to have a party as if I won it.
“I just hope I get more moments like this,” he added.
Live Snooker (@Livesnooker) May 4, 2019