01 march 2021 publish date

Incredible desire to win. Final Players Championship 2021

John Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan played in the 2021 Cazoo Players Championship Final.

Higgins is aiming for his 31st ranking title and first since the 2018 Welsh Open. The 45-year-old Scot, competing in his 51st ranking final, has played some of the best snooker of his career this week, notably in a 6-0 defeat of Mark Selby in the quarter-finals.

O’Sullivan is playing his 57th ranking final, equalling Stephen Hendry’s record. The 45-year-old from Essex is seeking his first title since becoming World Champion for a sixth time last August. He has lost three ranking finals already this season, including a shock 9-8 reverse against Jordan Brown in the BetVictor Welsh Open a week ago.

These two legends both turned pro in 1992 and have met on 64 previous occasions, O’Sullivan winning 35 of those. The Englishman has won ten of their previous 17 finals, though they have not met in the final of a ranking event since the 2005 Grand Prix, when Higgins came out on top 9-2.

O’Sullivan will be second in the world rankings regardless of the result, while Higgins will move up from sixth to fifth if he lands the title.

Four-time World Champion Higgins got the better of a fragmented opening frame today, then won the second with a break of 92. A missed long red from O’Sullivan in frame three let Higgins in for a run of 68 for 3-0.

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It was spell-binding stuff from the Wizard of Wishaw in the the next two frames as total clearances of 142 and 138 put him 5-0 ahead and brought his tally of centuries for the week to seven. He had a scoring chance in frame six but made just 26 before running out of position, and this time O’Sullivan punished him as a long red set up a break of 82 to get one on the board.

Frame seven lasted 35 minutes and came down to the colours. O’Sullivan went for a risky double on the yellow to a baulk corner and was fortunate to leave it safe. He later potted the yellow but then attempted a do-or-die thin cut on the green to the same pocket and this time left it hanging over the jaws. Higgins cleared to the pink for 6-1.

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In the last of the session, a long red set O’Sullivan up for a marvellous 144, eclipsing Barry Hawkins’ target of 143 for the £10,000 high break prize. The Rocket might needed more of the same if he'll to take eight of the last 11 frames in the evening session.

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Higgins took the first frame of the evening session with a break 51, initiated by a tricky thin cut on a red to a baulk corner. O’Sullivan hit back with a break of 110, the fourth century of the match, but didn’t score a point in the next two frames as Higgins made 70 and 77 to lead 9-3 at the interval.

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Fittingly, Higgins wrapped up the match in frame 13 with another century, a superb 127.

Remarkably, Higgins won the tournament for the loss of just four frames, having beaten Jordan Brown 6-0, Mark Selby 6-0 and Kyren Wilson 6-1 en route to the final in Milton Keynes. Against O’Sullivan, Higgins made three centuries and five more breaks over 50 as he romped to the £125,000 top prize and captured his 31st ranking title.

A change to his technique, moving the cue tip closer to the white ball at address, has worked wonders for Higgins in recent weeks. The Scot was runner-up to Yan Bingtao at the Masters and has gone one better this week to land his first ranking crown since the 2018 Welsh Open. At the age of 45 and having been a pro since 1992, he insists he has never struck the ball more cleanly and with such control and confidence.

The result lifts him one place to fifth in the world rankings, and crucially boosts him from tenth to fourth on the one-year list and guarantees his place at the Cazoo Tour Championship at the end f March. No doubt Higgins will already have one eye on the Crucible in the Spring; in this week’s form he will be a mighty force.

O’Sullivan misses out on a 38th ranking title and third Players Championship crown. He has now lost four finals since conquering the Crucible for a sixth time last August. He was beaten by Judd Trump at the Northern Ireland Open, Mark Selby at the Scottish Open, Jordan Brown at the BetVictor Welsh Open and now Higgins. In truth, no opponent could have lived with Higgins this week, so strong was he in every department.

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“It’s the best week of my snooker career,” said Higgins, who has now won 30 of his 65 matches with O’Sullivan, and triumphed in eight of their 18 finals. “I have won bigger tournaments, but in terms of the way I have played and felt the whole week, it’s my best ever. I’m delighted.

“I was in the zone tonight, I would have loved to play more frames. I was enjoying it, especially against an opponent like Ronnie.  In the first session he went for a lot of balls, and that put me off a bit. He obviously fancied it, the way he was playing. To lead 6-2 was brilliant, and I played well again tonight.

“It’s easy to get into bad habits in this game and I don’t have a coach. I am just glad I have rectified the technique issue I had, and I will stick with the change I have made. To win a big tournament like this guarantees me the chance to keep competing against the top players for at least the next couple of years.

“Before Christmas, people wouldn’t have seen me as one of the favourites for the World Championship. I’ve got a chance now.”

O’Sullivan said: “I knew I would have to play very well today against John but in the end I got peppered by him, just as everyone else has this week. It’s great to see him back playing well, it’s good for snooker and I’m happy for him. What he has done on the table this week, you don’t see that very often. Hopefully the next time I get to a final it will be my day.”

The article is based on WST.TV