John Higgins blamed the suffocating Crucible pressure for his poor performance despite battling his way into the second round of the World Snooker Championship with a 10-7 win over China’s Tian Pengfei.
The four-time champion hit back from 7-4 behind to win six frames on the spin, belatedly finding his form in a match that twice went over its allotted schedule time by completing his victory with two consecutive centuries.
It may be the 45-year-old’s 27th appearance at the Crucible but, despite his colossal experience, Higgins admitted the venue’s weight of history was still impossible to ignore.
Higgins said: “It’s this place that does it – I think I stopped breathing a few times out there. That’s what it does to you – the pressure can be that intense.
“It was a poor game by me and I’ve dodged a bullet there big time because Tian had enough chances to beat me. I’ve brought him down to my level and it’s a big relief.”
Higgins’ compatriot Anthony McGill proved he had no Crucible hangover from his agonising semi-final defeat eight months ago as he cruised into the second round with a 10-5 win over Ricky Walden.
McGill’s previous appearance at the famous venue culminated in one of the most remarkable passages of play in snooker history as he lost his last-four decider to Kyren Wilson in a frame with a total combined score of 186.
The 30-year-old Scot declined an invitation by Eurosport to appear in a special programme about the frame in the build-up to this year’s tournament but insisted: “It didn’t hit me hard at all, and I was over it five minutes afterwards.
“I was asked (to appear in the programme) but I didn’t want to. I was over it, but that frame still cost me one hundred grand so I don’t really want to sit down and talk about it fondly.”
Resuming with a slender 5-4 advantage over his fellow former semi-finalist, McGill extended his lead with back-to-back breaks of 83 and 130 before a 98 from Walden reduced the deficit.
But McGill responded to close out the match with three frames in a row, including two more half-centuries, to set up a last-eight meeting with Ronnie O’Sullivan.
“I’ll just try to play my own game,” said McGill. “I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who’s got the aura that Ronnie’s got – he’s the best ever and I’m really looking forward to it.
“I won’t approach the match any differently. I can only play as well as I can play, and if the other guy is too good then that’s fine.”
Wilson, eventually beaten in last year’s final by O’Sullivan, was forced to battle for a 10-8 first round win over Gary Wilson.
Kyren Wilson trailed 5-1 in the early stages but hit back with three centuries to wrest the match in his favour, and despite a gallant effort from the underdog, the Welshman completed a cool 73 break to avoid another decider.
Ding Junhui built a 5-4 overnight advantage over former champion Stuart Bingham, despite breaks of 131 and 129 helping Bingham establish a 3-1 lead.
Ding, the world number nine and runner-up at the Crucible to Mark Selby in 2016, produced clearances of 105 and 86 levelled the match, and nicked the ninth frame on a fluked final black.
Fourteenth seed Jack Lisowski fought back from 3-1 down to fashion a 5-4 overnight advantage over former finalist Ali Carter.