John Higgins pulled off a gutsy fightback from 8-4 down to edge out Zhao Xintong 10-9 in the opening match of the 2022 Tour Championship in Llandudno.
Just days after scooping the £150,000 BetVictor Series bonus despite not competing in the Gibraltar Open, Higgins’ fine fortune continued as he avoided an early exit in the season’s penultimate ranking event.
The 46-year-old was far from at his vintage best on the opening day of the £380,000 major at Venue Cymru, but dug deep to deny the reigning UK Champion and reach his first Tour Championship Semi-Final.
Zhao appeared in cruise control at 8-4 up, but only for Higgins to reel off five frames in a row, and despite the Chinese youngster stopping the rot to force a decider, it was the wily Scot who completed the turnaround.
“I can’t believe I’ve won that,” Higgins admitted. “I was embarrassed with myself at 8-4 – I was sitting there thinking ‘he’s playing like a world class player – which he is – and I’m playing like a club player.’
“I didn’t actually fancy coming back at all really but then he started to miss a couple and I started to hit it a little better, but I was still all over the place.
“I dragged him down to my level, without a shadow of a doubt, that’s why I’ve won the game.”
The opening four frames were shared as Higgins produced a break of 69 to draw level at the interval, before Zhao reeled off three consecutive frames with high breaks of 124 and 108 to take command.
Higgins secured the final frame of the first session to trail 5-3 and a slice of fortune helped him take the opening frame of the evening with the aid of a fluke on the final blue.
Zhao, though, recovered strongly to claim three frames in a row with breaks of 128 and 71 in the process as he made it 8-4.
The 24-year-old, however, appeared to lose concentration from that point on and failed to punish several unforced errors from his opponent – who helped himself to five consecutive frames to turn the match on its head with breaks of 56, 83 and 59 along the way.
Zhao did rally back in frame 18 with a quick-fire break of 64 to force a decider, but Higgins drew upon his vast experience to drag himself over the line and into the Last Four – where he will meet either Judd Trump or Luca Brecel on Saturday.