John Higgins booked his place in The Masters Semi-Finals after beating Ronnie O’Sullivan 6-3 in an epic showdown in Milton Keynes on Friday.
The 64th meeting between two of snooker’s all-time greats – and fourth in the history of this competition – produced five consecutive centuries, and a further two breaks over 50.
Three of those tons came from Higgins – including the highest break of the tournament so far courtesy of a magnificent 145 total clearance – as he booked his place in a ninth Masters semi-final, where he will play David Gilbert.
Having only missed a handful of shots while maintaining high pot success and safety percentages, O’Sullivan will count himself unlucky not to remain on course for title number eight in snooker’s most prestigious invitational event.
“I’m delighted with the way I played; I’m over the moon,” Higgins told Eurosport. “I want to try and do it against the top, top players.
“You can do it in other matches, but you judge yourself against the best. Obviously, Ronnie’s one of the best, so I’m delighted with that.
“I thought it was a great match; there were only a couple of little mistakes. For the amount of frames that we played, I think it was good going for both of us.”
With 10 World titles, nine Masters titles, 67 ranking titles and 26 maximum breaks between them, it promised to be an enthralling contest between the two outstanding members of the highly esteemed ‘Class of 92’.
The two contested arguably the greatest-ever match in Masters history in the 2006 final, where Higgins produced a memorable 64 counter clearance from 60-0 behind to stun O’Sullivan 10-9 on the final black in the last match to be played at the Wembley Conference Centre.
And their latest showdown certainly did not disappoint. Seven-time champion O’Sullivan came firing out on all cylinders following a loose break-off from Higgins with 97 to draw first blood.
But the Scotsman responded. A couple of runs of 41 – both kick-started by stunning long reds – quickly levelled the contest.
He then completed the turnaround in emphatic fashion with a magnificent 145 total clearance – the first compiled in Masters history.
Higgins had lost his last three meetings with O’Sullivan, but went into overdrive by clearing to the pink with a fabulous effort of 110 to move two frames clear at the interval.
The Rocket came back firing with a brilliant total clearance of 125 to reduce the arrears.
Higgins – winner of this event in 1999 and 2006 – looked like he would restore his two-time frame buffer in the next, but broke down on 30 after missing a red with the rest and O’Sullivan gratefully stepped in with 103 to equalise.
Undeterred, the Scotsman hit back with another stunning total clearance to regain the advantage – this time, 134.
However, a record-equalling sixth consecutive century narrowly deserted him, as he broke down on 88 in the next after missing a tricky yellow along the side cushion.
Nevertheless, it was more than enough to move him to the brink of victory, which he sealed with a run of 47 to book a last-four date with Gilbert.
“There’s not many matches when you go out there and feel like you’re going to pot everything,” he added.
“Last week (at the Championship League), I was making a few centuries, so that was giving me confidence. You just need to score nowadays against the best players.
“Tonight, I was really happy.”
O’Sullivan admited: “Whenever you play someone like John – or someone of that level – and they’re playing as well as he was tonight, if you make unforced errors, you’re just not going to win.
“You need make the centuries and cut out the unforced errors.
“I wasn’t able to do that tonight, so 6-3 was flattering towards me in many ways because he was the much better player.”
Earlier in the day, debutant Yan Bingtao also booked his place in the semi-finals after edging out Stephen Maguire 6-5.
After Tour Championship winner Maguire overturned a 2-0 deficit, the contest developed into a real seesaw battle and came down to a deciding frame.
To his credit, 20-year-old Yan held his nerve with a sublime 141 total clearance as he became the youngest Betfred Masters semi-finalist at this event since compatriot Ding Junhui in 2007.
Masters Snooker 2021 Results
Friday January 15
Stephen Maguire 5-6 Yan Bingtao
Ronnie O’Sullivan 3-6 John Higgins