John Higgins crashed out of the 2020 World Snooker Championship after he was stunned 13-11 by qualifier Kurt Maflin in the second round at the Crucible.
Despite making the 10th maximum break of his career earlier in the day – and the 11th in Sheffield – the four-time World champion was sent packing by world number 43 Maflin, who recovered from 11-10 down by winning the last three frames to secure one of the biggest wins of his career.
A runner-up in each of the last three years, there will be no fifth title in Sheffield for 45-year-old Higgins, who failed to progress beyond round two of snooker’s blue-riband event for the first time since 2015.
Meanwhile Maflin, who also beat David Gilbert in the opening round, is guaranteed £50,000 – the biggest pay cheque of his career – after reaching the quarter-finals, where he will play Anthony McGill or Jamie Clarke.
Locked at 8-8 following a pulsating morning session that featured Higgins’ magical maximum, Maflin controlled the opening two frames of the evening to move 10-8 ahead.
Back came the Scotsman, though, with a top break of 80 as he won the next three to lead in the match for the first time since frame three on Wednesday.
Maflin, who prevailed 5-3 when the players met at the China Championship earlier this season, responded brilliantly with 80 to level again.
He then ruthlessly punished the world number five, who missed a red to the top corner, with a nice break of 75 to move to the brink of victory.
A run of 63 did the damage in frame 24 and despite a brief fight from Higgins, the 36-year-old held his nerve to progress to the last eight.
“I just gave it everything I could tonight,” Maflin told Eurosport.
“When I went 11-10 down, I knew I needed to do something, so I started thinking back on everything that’s been said to me, all the support and all the practice I’ve been doing. I went for my shots and they went in.
“I feel good; I feel comfortable and I still feel like I can play better. I’m really looking forward to whoever I play next.”
A magnanimous Higgins added: “Kurt was amazing all through the game. He never shied away from any shots. Every credit to him; he went for it and he deserved it in the end.”
Elsewhere, defending champion Judd Trump has work to do as he trails 5-3 against world number 16 Yan Bingtao.
The world number one was far from his best and his Chinese opponent took advantage with breaks of 133, 91 and 93 on the way to taking a 5-2 lead.
However, Trump rallied with 58 in the final frame to stay in touch overnight.
Meanwhile, three-time Crucible king Mark Selby is locked at 8-8 with world number 42 Noppon Saengkham.
Although he opened up a 3-1 lead with runs of 84, 70 and 102, Selby was pegged back as Saengkham replied with four consecutive frames – making a top break of 122 along the way – to go 5-3 ahead.
The Jester hit back at the start of the evening session with contributions of 76 and 120 putting him 6-5 in front.
The Thai, who beat Shaun Murphy in round one, responded with a top run of 105 as he won three of the next four frames to lead 8-7, but Selby levelled things up once more at the close of play.
There is also nothing to separate former World Champions Mark Williams and Stuart Bingham in their second-round show-down.
Trailing 5-3 overnight, Bingham lost the opening frame of the second session, but hit breaks of 115 and 76 as he won the next four – two on the colours – to edge his nose in front at 7-6.
Despite three-time champion Williams winning the next two frames, 2015 winner Bingham took the last of the day on the pink to level heading into Friday’s conclusion.
World Snooker Championship 2020 Scores
Thursday August 6
John Higgins 11-13 Kurt Maflin
Mark Selby 8-8 Noppon Saengkham (Resumes Friday)
Judd Trump 3-5 Yan Bingtao (Resumes Friday)
Mark Williams 8-8 Stuart Bingham (Resumes Friday)